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January 2, 2006

Politics in the New Year

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Before the horns, bells, hats, and sparklers come out, here are some political predictions at the state level for 2006: tomorrow, the county races.

The U. S. Senate

Rep. Ben Cardin (D., 3rd) is already so far ahead in the minds of most Democrats that Kweisi Mfume is a distant memory. That is, until Mr. Mfume’s camp starts to make it personal, and they will. Therein lies current Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele’s secret weapon. A bitter Democrat primary gives Mr. Steele a platform he’d otherwise be denied.

African American voters will listen more closely to Mr. Steele’s platform and ideas if they feel that their other candidate (Mfume) was given short shrift in the Democrat primary.

The numbers suggest that a Democrat will easily be elected to replace liberal stalwart Paul Sarbanes. The numbers may not tell the whole story, though. Michael Steele will surprise many, and could very well pull off an historic upset.

6th District U. S. House of Representatives

Incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett looks stronger than ever. He is too smart to make stupid mistakes, and his recent Patriot Act position makes his rhetoric about civil liberties peal with the ring of solid truth.

His challengers are an odd bunch. Topping the list is Andrew Duck, a Gulf War vet who can alternate between classic liberal talk and more moderate views. Mr. Duck would be a strong candidate with money; without it he’ll follow the path of a long string of past opponents with names like Steve Crawford and Don DeArmon.

Even odder is Barry Kissin, local peacenik and activist for the social cause du jour. While Mr. Kissin doesn’t have a snowballs chance in Hades of winning; his press conferences have already made the local paper more interesting.

Let’s face it! The real race won’t be until Roscoe Bartlett is ready to pack it in. When that happens, Katie bar the door!

Names like Bartlett (Joe, not Roscoe), Alex Mooney, David Brinkley, Scott Rolle (in spite of his boo-boo of two years ago), and just about any other high profile Republican in the district promise to make that the event of the year when it finally arrives.

The Governor’s Race

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich has a difficult choice facing him. His pick for lieutenant governor will say a lot about his chances for re-election. Pundits claim that voters don’t pick a governor based on the ticket’s second choice.

While it’s true that no one ever voted for governor based on the lieutenant governor’s identity, that choice will be a defining moment in the Ehrlich campaign. He can pick a moderate or converted Democrat, and possibly pick up support from precincts not known for supporting the GOP.

On the other hand, he would risk alienating the base. Governor Ehrlich needs every single Republican vote next year, since Martin O’Malley is no Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Ultra-conservatives in and out of public office have already sent their warning shots across his bow. The choice of a moderate or Democrat will run the risk of keeping the conservative wing of the party at home on Election Day, and Governor Ehrlich needs them to show up at the polls.

Expect a mid to high profile Republican currently serving in state government to get the nod. Mary Kane is currently serving as the Secretary of State for Maryland. Her husband John is the chairman of the state Republican Party. Mrs. Kane would please the base, and she has built some strong Annapolis relationships.

Sen. Sandra Schrader (R., Howard) is a very well liked and rising Annapolis star. Her name has been mentioned in connection with all of this lieutenant governor talk. Unfortunately, she’s a classic moderate, maybe even more moderate than Governor Ehrlich, so the ultra cons won’t like her at all.

Over in the other camp, forget about Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan. Regardless of whom he chooses for lieutenant governor, even the Democrats have written Mr. Duncan off.

The horse in that race is Mayor O’Malley, strengthened by Del. Anthony Brown (D., PG). Mr. Brown is a Harvard-trained lawyer, and a returning Iraq War veteran. His Annapolis send-off last year was a show-stopping event; his return was like a Mercury astronaut’s ticker tape parade. These two practically drip charisma, and often voters touch a screen based on how a candidate looks, not what they say.

One interesting challenge facing Mayor O’Malley is his record in Baltimore. Will he run on it, or away from it?

There are a few imponderables, like what effect will a Doug Duncan primary drubbing have on the General Election. Will Duncan’s supporters forgive Mayor O’Malley if the race gets personal? Or will they stay home and rob O’Malley/Brown of precious votes?

Another question is whether the legislature will move up the primary date. The State House Democrats fear Governor Ehrlich’s massive campaign war chest, and dread the fact that Mayor O’Malley will have to spend his money to fend off Doug Duncan. But last week party officials and powerful state legislators were discounting this possibility.

If the economy is strong; if Governor Ehrlich makes a good choice for lieutenant governor; and if the GOP turns out a big vote in the general, don’t be surprised if he gets a second term.

Frederick County Delegation

Familiarity suggests this writer cannot offer an opinion about the District 3B race, but that constraint doesn’t apply to the other seats.

State Senate

Senator Brinkley is practically unbeatable. Popular at home, even more popular in Annapolis, he is the real deal. A politician possessing poise, intellect, and a street fighter’s sense of retail level politics. Rumors of former Sen. Tim Ferguson coming back from the great beyond to knock David out don’t even deserve the benefit of speculation. Put your money on David. He’s a lock.

Senator Alex Mooney is a prolific fundraiser of historic proportion. Additionally, he has an army of rabid supporters who door knock, sign wave, and parade for him until they drop. He’s facing a primary challenge from Republican State Central Committee member and former unsuccessful delegate candidate Tim Brooks. I expect that race to get ugly fast, since Mr. Brooks will have to go negative to make inroads into Alex’s base.

If Tim does head for the gutter, he’ll find that Alex is just as capable of getting a little mud on him. On the Democratic side, downtown realtor and man-about-town George Wenschhof has already announced his candidacy.

George is a nice guy, and his work for the Democratic Party will get him a number of votes in the city. Remember though, this senatorial district also includes the southern part of the county. Mr. Wenschhof will get crushed there, so his only chance of victory will be to do better than even former Delegate Sue Hecht did four years ago. Not very likely!

After it’s all said and done, the District 3 Senate seat is Alex’s to lose.

District 3A Delegate

Incumbent Delegates Patrick Hogan (R) and Galen Clagett (D) have to be considered the frontrunners. They have the power of incumbency, with its attendant high media profile and name recognition advantage. They have something else: a record.

Each gentleman has cast hundreds of votes, all a part of the official state records, and all available for scrutiny by potential opponents. This race promises to be one to watch based on attempts by Republicans to win more seats in the House of Delegates.

Delegates Clagett and Hogan both feel like they’re on the other party’s “hit list.” (Psst! They are!) House Speaker Mike Busch will help Galen raise and spend prolific amounts to keep his fourth floor private Annapolis office. Patrick can count on Republican Party help to hold his seat, in addition to some money for another GOP candidate to try and knock Clagett out.

Former Democrat Del. Sue Hecht has been telling everyone who’ll listen that she plans to be back in Annapolis in 2007. She keeps showing up at quasi-political events, popping up at a recent League of Women Voters event where she asked a question that sounded more like a campaign speech.

Former Board of Education President Linda Naylor (a Republican) is running a low profile delegate race, but promises to ramp it up dramatically come the spring of 2006. She ran an impressive campaign for the Board of Ed, so she looks to be tough opponent.

Former Republican Fredrick Alderman Bill Hall is talking about a possible 3A delegate run next year. If so, he’d be a very strong candidate. He topped the polling when he ran for alderman, getting more votes than the mayoral candidates in 2001!

Outgoing Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty has been coy (Jennifer, coy?) about her future political plans. Imagine that scenario: Jennifer on the Democrat ticket and Bill Hall on the GOP ballot. It just doesn’t get any better than that, huh? It’s hard to imagine Jennifer satisfied to run for the House, though. A more likely scenario would be for her to run for state Senate.

County Commissioner Jan Gardner has been rumored as a possible Delegate candidate. Her Spring Ridge residence puts her in District 3A. Given Jan’s adoration for her family, especially her youngest daughter, it’s hard to imagine her living in Annapolis for the 90-day session. It just doesn’t seem to fit.

District 4 Delegate

Assuming they both run in 2006, incumbents Paul Stull and Joe Bartlett look tough to beat. There are no real strong challengers out there scaring up support on either side. Since the state Democratic Party has stated that all races will be competitive, we can count on a General Election race.

Given that, a challenger had better be building a base right now. Mr. Stull is very popular throughout the county, even more so in his district. Joe lacks Paul’s wide and strong base, but Joe has an outstanding constituent service operation and is a prolific campaigner. Don’t discount a challenger to rise out of one the District 4 municipalities, though.

Del. Don Elliott is so popular that opposing him is a monumental waste of time. He won in 2002 with 70% of the vote, for Heaven’s sake. In addition to being adored by his constituents, he is widely respected by both parties in Annapolis. If Senator Brinkley is a lock, than Don Elliott is a “bet the farm”.

Tomorrow: The County Races

Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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