City technician Robert L. Poole readies voting machines at… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
Voters are choosing Maryland's next governor, a new delegation to the U.S. Congress and a new state General Assembly on Tuesday. They're also deciding a wide range of local offices and issues, including the fate of a proposed slots parlor at Arundel Mills mall.
Counting all the ballots will take hours, possibly days if a contest is very close. Here are early clues to watch for as trends and outcomes of the 2010 election develop.
The Eastern Shore
Eastern Shore voters could well determine freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil's future. Two years ago, the Shore Democrat carried his home base by 25,000 votes over state Sen. Andy Harris. That was enough to defeat the veteran lawmaker from Baltimore County, who took the district's Western Shore counties by fewer than 20,000 votes. If Harris can cut Kratovil's margin on the Eastern Shore in half this time, it should be enough to flip the 1st District back into Republican hands.
Kratovil is the most endangered incumbent in the state's congressional delegation, almost certainly the only one. If he manages to hang on, it would be a rare exception on what is expected to be a huge day for Republican candidates nationwide.
Much has been made of heightened Republican excitement this election year, but it remains to be seen how closely Maryland follows the national trend.
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. says he's seeing more passion from Republicans than he did during his races in 2002 and 2006. As he made that point to reporters at an event for veterans Sunday afternoon, supporter Sherri Minkin interrupted and sternly told the governor: "You better win."
Ehrlich hugged her and said, "We didn't have that level of enthusiasm before. … We didn't have the threats. I love the threats."
Gov. Martin O'Malley has acknowledged that his supporters aren't as pumped up, but in a state where Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage, they don't need to be as excited to deliver wins for their candidates.
Laurel neighborhoods and Arundel slots
Anne Arundel County voters are considering a ballot question that will determine whether the Baltimore-based Cordish Cos. can develop a billion-dollar slots emporium and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills mall. The Maryland Jockey Club owns Laurel Park Race Course and has financed the opposition to the Cordish plan, in hopes of eventually steering slots to the track.
The county has been evenly split on Question A in recent polling, but the same surveys have shown strong support for the mall plan in the area around Laurel Park. If the referendum passes, it would allow the casino to be built near the mall.
If the question fails, the path for county slots will be less clear, but the results from around the racetrack could have ramifications well beyond election day.
Big margins in Laurel in favor of the casino at the mall could offer Cordish ammunition in a continuing battle against the Jockey Club. If the referendum fails, Cordish could present the Laurel results as evidence that the Jockey Club would face the same flood of NIMBYism that has come from neighborhoods near the mall.
In that case, Cordish might try to convince state officials not to reopen bidding for the county's only slots license and allow the Jockey Club to compete. This could buy Cordish time to find an alternative location, or figure out how to make the mall location work.
Baltimore County's northwestern suburbs
Republican Baltimore County executive candidate Kenneth C. Holt, of Kingsville, is widely seen as an underdog in his race against four-term Democratic Councilman Kevin Kamenetz of Owings Mills.
Kamenetz is better known, has raised about five times as much money, and his party holds a more than two-to-one advantage in voter registration.
If Holt is to have a chance in the race to fill the open seat, he'll have to hope that voters in Kamenetz's stronghold in the suburban western and northwestern districts of the county show up in smaller numbers than usual, and that those in the more conservative southeastern, southwestern and rural northern sections turn out in large numbers.
Holt is counting on a boost from the candidacy of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — who grew up in Arbutus — but many also argue that while Ehrlich is popular in the county, he doesn't have coattails. In his successful 2002 campaign, Ehrlich defeated Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by 23 percentage points in the county, but Democrat James T. Smith Jr., who is now term-limited, cruised to victory as county executive.
Democrats and Republicans are warning of political dirty tricks aimed at confusing voters. Traditional misdirection ruses have involved partisan volunteers passing out sample ballots that suggest their candidate has been endorsed by popular politicians who have, in fact, not endorsed those candidates.