Legislative primaries to watch

Restless electorate has enticed many primary challengers

September 12, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

The elder statesman of the Maryland Senate faces one of the year's youngest challengers. A Baltimore lawmaker is battling an upstart who hadn't been born when he first took office. And in Montgomery, Prince George's and Washington counties, ambitious delegates are trying to unseat veteran senators.

With the much of the state divided into safe Democratic or Republican districts, the party primary contests on Tuesday will decide election winners in many corners of Maryland.

While no wholesale changes are expected in the 188-seat General Assembly, national sentiment against incumbents has inspired an outpouring of candidates working to propel lawmakers out of posts they've held for decades. Neither Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller nor House Speaker Michael E. Bush can remember such an active primary season.

"There's an anti-incumbent theme," said Miller, a Democrat whose district straddles Calvert and Prince George's counties. "There's anger. People aren't going to the polls to vote for someone. They're going to vote against someone."

Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said each primary race "has its own personality. Some are philosophical, some are about a person's political agenda. Some are just old versus new."

But one common thread among the contested primaries this year, Busch said, is that they have been "intense and ugly."

In Montgomery County, the tight Democratic primary fight between Sen. Nancy J. King and Del. Saqib Ali has featured embarrassing social media postings, allegations of darkened photographs and mocking websites. The Democratic contest between Sen. Mike Lenett and Del. Roger Manno for another Montgomery Senate seat also involves personal accusations.

"Montgomery County has seen negative campaigning like they've never seen before," Miller observed. "This is a whole new brand of politics."

Democrats and Republicans alike are "stoking the anger of the voters," Miller said. Nastiness has also taken hold in Washington County, where Del. Christopher B. Shank is trying to oust Sen. Donald F. Munson in the Republican primary.

Shank says Munson, a member of the budget committee, is too friendly with the Democrats who control the panel. "He has abandoned our conservative principles here in Washington County," Shank said.

Munson said Shank "thinks the definition of conservatism is voting against the budget, even if it means hurting your constituents." Beyond budget votes, he said, he and Shank have a similar voting record.

A retired teacher elected to the House in 1974 and to the Senate in 1990, Munson said this is "far and away the toughest primary" he has faced. Shank, a political science professor and a delegate since 1999, is the House minority whip.

Other races are less about ideology — and more about incumbency.

Jordan Hadfield, a 25-year-old development officer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is challenging Democratic Sen. Norman Stone Jr., a defense attorney who has held his Baltimore County seat since the 1960s.

Both candidates spent hours last week personally appealing to constituents outside an early voting center at Merritt Boulevard and Holabird Avenue — an intersection that each invoked as evidence that he should be elected.

Hadfield called the well-worn shopping center there an outdated relic, while Stone focused on a $750,000 renovation to the library at the intersection and promised an overhaul of the shopping area is on its way.

The rarely still Hadfield says he has knocked on the doors of every voter in the area's past two primary elections and shoveled 48 sidewalks as a campaign tactic during the winter snowstorms. He has never held an elected office but lost a bid four years ago to become a member of the Democratic Central Committee.

Hadfield chatted with voters Louise and Al Claridge as they approached the voting center last week.

"I hope you do consider voting for some new folks," Hadfield said. "Do we want the same or do we want something new?"

The pitch appeared to work.

"I think we need a change," Louise Claridge said, adding that Hadfield and other new candidates will get her vote. Her husband nodded in agreement.

Stone has rock-solid relationships with local and state officials — and experience that he said is necessary in a tough economic climate such as this.

"You can say, 'It's time for a change,' and all that, but I have a lot to offer," Stone said. "No matter what they say, experience does count."

David Davies, who voted shortly after the Claridges, agreed.

"I feel that as long as they're doing a good job, the longer they've been in, the more power they have, which is good for us," Davies said.

Political observers including Miller say Hadfield doesn't have the resources to defeat the powerful Stone, a man who has collected endorsements from nearly every organization and elected official in the area.

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