District 12A GOP tries to claim Ehrlich turf

Democratic incumbents face aggressive challenge by candidates determined to give governor boost

Maryland Votes 2006

October 25, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

When Catonsville tow company operator Joe Hooe talks about his run for a House of Delegates seat in the district where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. grew up, the motive is clear: to give Ehrlich some breathing room in the state legislature.

Elect enough Republicans, the theory goes, and a re-elected Ehrlich could survive efforts by the General Assembly to override his vetoes.

And for Republican hopefuls such as 38-year-old Hooe, one target is District 12, an odd-shaped piece of political real estate that's split in two and spread between Baltimore and Howard counties.

"The Republican Party is very aggressive this time," said Hooe, who joins fellow Republican Albert L. Nalley, 56, in seeking to unseat a pair of Democrats in a conservative part of the district - 12A - that stretches from Catonsville through Arbutus and Halethorpe into Elkridge.

They are setting their sights on a piece of turf where conservative Democrats often hold sway.

"If they don't make gains in this district, then the four years Ehrlich's been in office hasn't helped the Republican Party materially in the General Assembly," said Donald F. Norris, a public policy professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which is located in the district.

A smaller - and, for Republicans, tougher - portion of the district (12B) covers West Columbia and part of Ellicott City, where a more liberal Democrat, Del. Elizabeth Bobo, is the three-term incumbent.

District 12A

To win in 12A, Hooe and Nalley must defeat 12-year veteran Democratic Del. James E. Malone Jr., 49, a Baltimore County fire lieutenant, and freshman Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., 50, a retired Baltimore County police officer.

The two incumbents are running as a team with state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, 61, a 20-year member of the General Assembly, who represents both parts of the district.

Kasemeyer's Republican opponent, Arbutus attorney Richard I. Martel, Jr., 48, also must compete in Bobo's end of the district. Going up against Bobo in the delegate race is Republican novice candidate Christopher Feldwick, 35, a jewelry store assistant manager at the Mall in Columbia.

Democrats have an edge in registrations throughout the district, but especially in Bobo's enclave, where they have a more than 2-to-1 majority - a likely boon to Kasemeyer.

Democrats say they're confident, though not overconfident.

"I'm probably working harder," said Kasemeyer, who added that his opponent is running harder than the challenger four years ago.

The GOP's best chances may be against Malone and DeBoy, who know they are under the gun.

"I don't allow myself to think I've got an easy race. I run like I'm 20 points behind," said DeBoy, who beat Hooe four years ago by 1,183 votes, or about 2.4 percent of the total. The Republicans, he said, "targeted me as soon as I won."

Hooe, Nalley and Martel are nothing if not aggressive, sharply criticizing Kasemeyer, Malone and DeBoy for voting with their party to override Ehrlich's vetoes last session. Those votes, they argue, show the Democrats are out of touch with their politically moderate-to-conservative constituents.

"We want to send a message to [Senate President] Mike Miller and [House Speaker] Mike Busch that that is not acceptable," Martel said.

Hooe blames DeBoy for a series of ills, including failing to stop drug and gang problems, and low standardized test scores at Lansdowne and Catonsville high schools.

"People are very upset, especially in Arbutus, with the lack of cooperation," Hooe said.

Nalley, 56, a small-business owner, also is hopeful.

"I couldn't have written a better script to win this election than those guys have written," he said, mentioning the veto overrides. "Everything for them is a party vote."

Martel believes he can win against Kasemeyer, saying the criticism of Democrats as obstructionists is working, he said.

"The Maryland legislature has gotten national press. What I'm hearing is that's resonating with voters," Martel said.

Kasemeyer, who described himself at a recent candidates' forum as "a realist and a pragmatist," rejects such charges.

"First of all, I worked very closely with the administration on the slot machine issue for three years. This year, I got involved in the [BGE rate issue]. Ultimately, we were as cooperative as we could possibly be," Kasemeyer said.

Malone said that he and DeBoy helped sponsor a measure that passed the House and would have legalized slot machines as a revenue-raising device. He said the two also worked closely with the Ehrlich administration.

DeBoy, who now is a civilian employee of the Howard County Police Department, dismisses the Republican attacks as "rhetoric. We're out at community events, going door to door. We're getting a very positive response from the community."

District 12B

Things are very different in the single-member portion of the district, which covers West Columbia.

There, Feldwick is trying to pull off a huge political upset in beating incumbent delegate Bobo, 62.

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