Maryland is no Delaware

Our view: The hurricane-strength political winds that upended Delaware's Senate primary yield no more than a soft zephyr of change in neighboring Maryland

September 15, 2010

Whatever tea — or other beverage — voters are sipping in Delaware, it appears to stop flowing west at the Newark Toll Plaza and the Maryland state line. The two states may have held their primaries on the same day, but the results were drastically different.

The selection of Sarah Palin-endorsed Christine O'Donnell over moderate Rep. Michael N. Castle, a popular former governor who had never previously lost an election, in the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Delaware suggests a right-wing revolt is in full swing. That splintering of the Republican party has been the national political story of the summer.

But while it's just 67 miles from Dover to Annapolis, the political climate is drastically different. True, a handful of incumbents lost on Tuesday in Maryland, but in many cases, the opposition came from the left, not the right, and the discontent was not over taxes and spending.

Meanwhile, the candidate who carried the Tea Party banner highest in Maryland (along with an endorsement from the former Alaskan governor), chalked up just 24 percent of the vote in his race. From the start, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. paid little attention to Brian Murphy in the Republican primary for governor. His 3-to-1 margin of victory suggests he was correct to do so.

Was there any sign of a protest vote against Maryland's incumbent Sen. Barbara Mikulski? Absolutely not. In the Democratic primary, she won by an 8-1 margin, if you combine the votes received by all six of her little-known opponents together.

Even Andy Harris, the veteran state senator running in the 1st Congressional District and portrayed by his opponent as too closely tied to the Republican establishment, won handily in the district that borders Delaware. He beat entrepreneur Robert Fisher Jr. by a 2-to-1 margin, despite Mr. Fisher's extensive ad campaign.

The few incumbents that did go down in Maryland had vastly different circumstances. House Minority Whip Christopher Shank's defeat of longtime GOP state Sen. Donald F. Munson in Western Maryland could hardly be viewed as the triumph of a political outsider. Baltimore state Sen. George W. Della Jr.'s loss to 27-year-old Bill Ferguson fits the pattern of the little-known candidate toppling the political establishment — except that it was Mr. Ferguson who touted the more progressive agenda.

In Baltimore County, Maryland's longest serving state senator, Norman R. Stone Jr., prevailed despite a vigorous challenge from newcomer Jordan Hadfield, a college development officer. So much for anti-incumbent fever.

The more distinct trend felt in Maryland was low voter turnout. But that doesn't necessarily signal widespread dissatisfaction as much as a lack of interest in many races. In 1994, the year Republicans took Congress, primary turnout was far better (likely because the gubernatorial race was more closely contested).

All of which suggests that the Tea Party movement is not the ubiquitous trend that some commentators would have Americans believe. It's certainly a political movement of consequence in some states, but the electorate is more complex than any one party or platform, with local elections hinging on local issues and local personalities. That the nation's economic woes are felt less keenly in left-of-center Maryland makes this state all the more insulated, even from its Diamond State neighbor.

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