Party's future is bleak, thanks to demographics

December 09, 2010|By Ron Smith

When asked about the future of the Republican Party in Maryland, the only answer I can come up with is, "There isn't one." This state is the third-bluest in the nation, following only Hawaii and Massachusetts in terms of Democratic domination.

There was much talk about the rematch between Gov. Martin O'Malley and former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who was successful in 2002 because the Democrats ran the hapless incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend against him.

The rematch turned out to be no match at all, as the professionals running the O'Malley bid made use of their huge lead in fundraising to score an early TKO over the under-funded and seemingly befuddled Ehrlich team. The early polls had it as a close contest, but later ones showed the fight was over well before the voters made it official.

In retrospect, I wonder why Mr. Ehrlich climbed into the ring one more time. We hear he wonders, too, knowing as he did that even with a Republican tide rising across most of the country, it wasn't likely to wash across Maryland.

The reason for the blueness of Maryland is simply demographics; 30 percent of the electorate is black, and the state is home to hordes of college graduates who work for the swollen federal government and countless others who are in the employ of firms that get their sustenance from Washington's spending of taxpayer dollars.

The registration advantage of Democrats over Republicans is roughly 2 to 1 and growing. The majority of Maryland voters are immune to the anti-government sentiments in flyover country. They depend on government. It's illogical to think they would vote against their own interests.

Last month on this op-ed page, Brian H. Murphy, who had challenged Mr. Ehrlich in the GOP primary and won 25 percent of the vote, made the argument that the Republicans can win in Maryland if they focus on the party's core "foundational principles."

The 32-year-old former commodities trader turned entrepreneur is an impressive young man. I talked with him on my show about his optimism that minority voters could be swung to the Republican side if it's made clear to them that these GOP principles apply to them as well as they do to the white middle class.

He said, for example, that many blacks have conservative social outlooks: family-centered, church-going, anti-abortion and so on. This is true enough, but it never, ever translates into significant black vote totals for pro-family, pro-life Republican politicians — or, indeed, any Republican politicians at all. You can look it up. Black Americans vote for Democrats by a more than 9 to 1 margin

Mr. Murphy has a bright political future, but only if he moves to another state where people sharing his convictions number more than an easily overwhelmed minority.

Is this too pessimistic a view of the GOP's future in Maryland? Perhaps, but the evidence is on my side. The Sun's lead editorial on Nov. 4 took note of the state's resistance to the repudiation of the Democrats taking place elsewhere. Along with California and New York, Maryland stood firm for blueness and rejected redness, and it sent Barbara Mikulski back to the U.S. Senate by her usual overwhelming majority.

It's true that Republican Andy Harris reclaimed the First Congressional District seat for the Republicans from one-termer Frank Kratovil, but aside from him, no Democratic incumbent was threatened, all winning with more than 60 percent of the vote.

In the above-mentioned editorial, the case was made that the state's Democratic staunchness was an anomaly and that Democrats elsewhere shouldn't read too much into it. "The source of the great energy behind this midterm election was dissatisfaction with — even hatred of — the federal government. To ask why that didn't catch on in Maryland is like wondering why a national movement against corn wouldn't get a lot of votes in Iowa," said the editors.

That summarizes the plight of the Maryland Republican Party. Unless there is a sea change in the underlying demographics, Republicans will remain largely insignificant in Maryland politics.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com.

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