Harris unseats Kratovil as part of Republican gains in the House

Most Maryland Democrats dodge GOP wave as Mikulski is re-elected to fifth term in Senate

  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski (right) speaks to supporters at the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore after being re-elected to fifth term.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (right) speaks to supporters at the American… (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore…)
November 03, 2010|By Paul West, The Baltimore Sun

A potent Republican punch knocked Democrats from power in the House but largely spared Maryland incumbents in Tuesday's midterm voting.

As part of that national trend, Maryland's most closely watched House contest saw Republican state Sen. Andy Harris defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the 1st District. Nearly complete returns showed Harris doing considerably better on the Eastern Shore than in 2008, when he lost in the historically Republican district by less than 3,000 votes.

Veteran Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was easily re-elected, as Marylanders also returned seven of the state's eight House members to office by comfortable margins.

"I've won the Senate seat. I'm going back to Washington," the 74-year-old Mikulski told a crowd of several hundred supporters at Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum. The Democrat earned a fifth six-year term, tying a state record set by retired Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Nationally, a Republican gain of more than of 50 seats appeared possible, if not likely, far above the 39-seat threshold need to regain control. Democrats were in danger of falling below 200 seats in the House for the first time since the 1940s.

The Senate appeared likely to stay in Democratic hands, though by a narrower margin, with Republican tea party favorites Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida among the newly elected senators.

For the third national election in a row, American voters sent a clear message of change to Washington. Deeply anxious over the direction of the economy, they reversed Democratic gains of the last four years and appeared to assure divided control of Congress for the second half of President Barack Obama's term.

At least one Democratic senator, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, was unseated. In Delaware, tea party Republican Christine O'Donnell was defeated by Democrat Chris Coons for the Senate seat once held by Vice President Joe Biden.

Republican National Chairman Michael S. Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, told an election-night celebration at a downtown Washington hotel: "We're about to do the one thing the American people want done, and that is to fire Pelosi," referring to Baltimore-born Nancy Pelosi, the first female House speaker in history.

The shift in control of the House produced a widespread power outage for Maryland.

House Democratic Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland was dumped from his influential perch as the chamber's second-ranking official. He was demoted, along with Pelosi, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen and other members of the Democratic leadership, to minority-party status, with sharply reduced clout under House rules.

Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, re-elected to an eighth two-year term, lost his chairmanship of the House Aviation, Coast Guard and Marine Transportation subcommittee.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Frederick, re-elected for the ninth time at age 84, became one of the senior members of the House majority, though it is not clear what leadership position he'll receive. He was passed over as chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, which will be led by a more junior Republican from California.

Maryland's only competitive House race, in the state's easternmost congressional district, saw Kratovil, a moderate Blue Dog Democrat, unseated after a single term.

"I've already been called by Speaker Boehner," Harris told cheering supporters last night, referring to Ohio Rep. John A. Boehner, likely to become the next House speaker.

"I look forward to going to Washington and rolling up our sleeves," said the veteran state lawmaker, who represented Baltimore's northern suburbs in Annapolis for a dozen years.

Harris thanked Kratovil for "running a tough race" and handling "a very tough job" as congressman. To chants of "Fire Pelosi," the Republican said the next Congress must cut taxes and reduce spending "to get the country back on track again."

The Harris-Kratovil race, one of the most expensive House campaigns in state history, was a rerun of Maryland's closest congressional election of 2008. Republicans had held the seat from the early 1990s until Kratovil rode Obama's coattails to a narrow victory.

The campaign was fueled by record spending, in the first federal election in which organizations could deploy unlimited amounts from corporations, labor unions and individuals. Nationally, spending broke the previous mark for a midterm election and could reach $4 billion, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money.

The Kratovil-Harris matchup was among the top House campaigns in the nation, with at least $8 million spent. Much of that went for a saturation ad drive that bombarded voters in the Baltimore and Salisbury media markets with largely negative commercials.

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