After a slip, Md. Democrats take back the reins


Maryland Votes 2006 -- A Special Section

November 08, 2006|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun reporter

In January 2003, the luxury suites of the Camden Yards baseball stadium reverberated with hip-hop sounds as Republicans celebrated the inauguration of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor - the first step in what they hoped would be a "permanent realignment" of Maryland politics.

Nearly four years later, those hopes are in jeopardy as Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley declared victory in the governor's race last night and Democrats appeared poised to make significant gains in the General Assembly.

Whatever the final outcome, Ehrlich and GOP Senate candidate Michael S. Steele could claim to have fought the good fight in a year when the national trends favored Democrats.

But in legislative races, Maryland Republicans were not only failing to meet their goals of General Assembly gains, they appeared to be losing ground even in conservative districts.

Democrats retained control of local governments in the state's largest three counties - Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore County. They were leading in Howard County and had scored a sweep of local races in Charles County.

Democrats were hoping to restore Maryland to what they see as its normal state - with governor and General Assembly functioning in relative harmony amid the routine political give-and-take.

Their apparent gains show there has been "no real shift in Maryland's Democratic leanings," said Zach Messitte, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

For Republicans, the loss of their fragile toehold on power would be a devastating blow that could set the party back to its dark days of November 1998, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening defeated Ellen Sauerbrey soundly and the GOP lost ground in the General Assembly.

"It's a significant pause in what had been a slow but steady progression of the Republicans for at least 20 years," said Donald F. Norris, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Norris said an Ehrlich loss - projected by TV networks from exit polls - would solidify Maryland's reputation as a Democratic stronghold. He said that while the governor is a good campaigner, he was facing a much stronger opponent in O'Malley than he did in 2002 with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

In Maryland, Norris said, "a good Democrat running a good campaign ought to beat a good Republican running a good campaign 99 times out of 100."

No gains

In Maryland's delegation to Congress, the GOP made no gains - even with an open seat in the Baltimore area's 3rd District. With Democrat John Sarbanes' victory in that race, state Democrats were able to retain their 6-2 advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ehrlich's hand-picked candidate for attorney general, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, never found his traction in the general election.

Nor did Anne M. McCarthy in her contest for comptroller against Del. Peter Franchot, who upset incumbent William Donald Schaefer in the Democratic priMary, then managed to unify his party behind him.

In the General Assembly, Republicans - who had set a goal of gaining five Senate and 14 House seats - were looking at a potentially disastrous night.

Virtually all of the Democratic legislators they had marked for defeat appeared to be cruising to victory, while Republican incumbents had lost or were trailing in Baltimore, Harford, Frederick, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Charles counties.

The results were especially stark in Anne Arundel's District 30. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, targeted by Ehrlich himself after Busch thwarted the governor's proposals for slots at racetracks, was running first in the three-member district.

Meanwhile, Democratic Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk was running ahead in her bid to seize the Republican seat vacated by Del. Herb McMillan, who was behind in his race against Sen. John Astle.

Early this morning, Republicans appeared to be headed for a loss of at least two of the party's 15 seats in the 47-member Senate, with Howard County's Sen. Sandra Schrader trailing Democratic County Executive James N. Robey and party-switching Republican Sen. John Giannetti lagging behind Democrat James C. Rosapepe.

In the House, the Democrats were on a course to gain six to nine seats, padding their already commanding 98-43 advantage.

On the local level, Republicans could claim few victories that would offer hope of replenishing their sorely depleted bench.

In Howard County, Republican Councilman Christopher J. Merdon - regarded as one of the party's up-and-coming stars - was trailing Democratic Councilman Ken Ulman for county executive. Meanwhile Democrats led in four of five races for the County Council - now split 3-2 Democratic.

Smith re-elected

Democrat Jim Smith won re-election handily as Baltimore County executive.

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