Office-seekers forgo 'waiting your turn,' challenge their elders

February 15, 2010|By John Wagner | The Washington Post

In Montgomery County, a veteran of the Maryland Senate is locked in the fight of her political career, against another Democrat young enough to be her daughter. In Western Maryland, a seemingly entrenched Republican senator is struggling to fend off a primary challenger 35 years his junior.

And in Baltimore County, a young community activist is taking aim at the longest-serving member of the state Senate. The incumbent is 74. The challenger, a fellow Democrat, is 25.

It is all part of a season of generational challenges taking shape in Maryland legislative primaries.

In nearly a dozen races, younger candidates have launched campaigns or are seriously contemplating challenges to more senior members of their party - bucking what had been a long tradition in Maryland politics of waiting your turn.

Several of the Democratic hopefuls - including some sitting delegates, who might give up their seats to run for the Senate - have pointed to President Barack Obama as inspiration for running for a higher office without a lengthy resume.

The most striking age difference might be in Jordan Hadfield's uphill bid to unseat Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., the longest-serving member sitting in the Maryland Senate. Stone, a 74-year-old Democrat from Baltimore County, joined the chamber in 1967, roughly 18 years before Hadfield was born.

The Republican challengers are more apt to cite the national political climate, in which no incumbent seems safe. Among those who could be vulnerable, they suggest, are Republicans who have spent a long time in Annapolis cutting deals with the Democratic majority.

"There's no constitutional requirement that you have gray hair," said Del. Saqib Ali, a Montgomery County Democrat elected to the House of Delegates in 2006.

Four years later, Ali, 35, is positioning himself for a possible primary challenge against Sen. Nancy J. King. The 60-year-old King has publicly advised the ambitious Ali to stand down, saying in an interview: "I think it would be best for him to accomplish something in the House and have a record to run on."

Montgomery already has one marquee Senate matchup: Cheryl C. Kagan, a former state delegate, has been campaigning for more than a year for the seat held by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a 32-year Democratic veteran of the legislature.

The first word Kagan uses to describe herself in campaign literature is "energetic." That was hard to dispute one night as Kagan, 48, darted among townhouses in the district, trying to convince targeted Democratic voters that she would bring a more independent voice to the Senate than Forehand, 74.

Kagan's campaign was bolstered by the release of finance reports last month showing that she had $96,000 in the bank, about $8,500 more than Forehand.

Prince George's County could be the site of several competitive Democratic Senate primaries as well, including possible matchups between candidates who span generations.

Del. Aisha N. Braveboy, 35, has not ruled out a contest against Sen. Ulysses Currie, 72, chairman of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. An FBI investigation of an undisclosed consulting arrangement involving Currie has been quiet for months, which could affect Braveboy's decision.

And Del. Victor R. Ramirez, 35, is contemplating a challenge to Sen. David C. Harrington, 55. Harrington and Montgomery's King are relatively new to the Senate, although they have been involved in Maryland politics for years. Both were appointed to midterm vacancies, which could make them more vulnerable.

Collectively, the Democrats contemplating challenges reflect a different mind-set from what was the norm in Maryland politics not long ago.

There have been exceptions, but the unwritten rule of waiting one's turn was exemplified by U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. The Democrat toiled for 20 years as a state delegate before winning election to the U.S. House, where he waited another 20 years until Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes retired before successfully seeking a U.S. Senate seat in 2006.

Republicans, a distinct minority in the General Assembly, cited a variety of motivations for trying to move up the ranks.

House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank, from Washington County, recently announced that he was willing to give up his seat to challenge Sen. Donald F. Munson. Shank, 37, contends that Munson, 72, has been in Annapolis so long that he is more interested in cutting deals with Democrats than representing his Western Maryland constituents - a notion that Munson has dismissed.

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