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September 8, 2006

Federal Races, IMHO* - Part Three

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

At the top of the ballot in this non-presidential election cycle, Maryland voters are facing some big choices. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, retiring after a long and respectable (but not brilliant) career in the upper house of Congress, leaves a very rare open seat in the chamber.

A novice would look at the voter registration numbers and automatically assume that a Democrat would be elected on November 7. This year, there is no automatic!

On the Democrat ballot, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume faces Rep. Ben Cardin in a big-time contest with the future of the Maryland Democratic Party hanging in the balance. There are a number of other credible candidates, but none possessing the star power and name recognition of Messrs. Mfume and Cardin.

Former Baltimore County executive and Annapolis lobbyist Dennis Rasmussen would appear to possess the tools to serve in the U.S. Senate. University professor and political opinion writer Alan Lichtman is certainly smart enough - and should be liberal enough - for the majority of Maryland voters.

Multi-millionaire businessman Josh Rales is self-financing his campaign, and his commercials are all over the DC/Baltimore TV market. Beyond these five, there are 13 other candidates running to replace Senator Sarbanes. Other than family, friends, and campaign workers, these unlucky 13 won't be able to count on many other votes.

On the GOP ticket, there are 10 candidates, but only one real campaign. Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will win the primary; feel free to bet the farm and the family.

The other nine are undoubtedly nice people, but they will take nothing more than experience away from the last several months. One of the more disturbing aspects of this campaign is Daniel "Wig Man" Vovak, notable for his white powdered colonial-era hairpiece.

Mr. Vovak legally changed his name in order to include the reference to his wig, and his whole campaign is built around what's on top of his head (not so much what's inside of it). His campaign sent a number of inflammatory emails about Michael Steele, and most of them came to my official state email address.

I wrote his campaign back and warned him to stop, but like a swarm of locusts, they just kept coming. I'll be happy to see the Wig Man and his annoying (and inaccurate) emails disappear into Maryland political oblivion.

The Gonzales Research Service recently conducted a statewide poll of likely voters. In a head to head race, Ben Cardin defeats Michael Steele in a close, single digit race. Conversely, Mr. Steele beats Mr. Mfume by a similar margin man-to-man.

This race just shouldn't be this close, given conventional wisdom. The Democratic Party power brokers, normally successful in holding their coalitions together, have seen the fabric pull apart over this race. Some of the labor groups that normally track the party message, like the State Teacher's Association, have gone off the reservation to back Mr. Mfume over Representative Cardin.

During the 2006 General Assembly session, former Speaker of the House Delegates Cardin made several stops in his old haunt, working the floor under his portrait. Candidate Mfume doesn't have that rare and special honor known as Floor Privileges.

IMHO*, Ben Cardin will defeat Kweisi Mfume on September 12. The unanswered question is whether that defeat will plant the seeds of discontent between African-American Democrat voters and their party. If so, expect many of them to cross the line and cast their votes for Lieutenant Governor Steele in the General Election.

On the Republican side, Mr. Steele will easily win the primary. There may be closet racists out there that simply can't bring themselves to vote for a confident, strong, and effective black man, but they don't deserve more than a passing mention. One or two more generations, and they'll be gone, anyway.

Analysis: If Ben Cardin wins, and if immediately he and Mr. Mfume declare a united Democrat Party, Mr. Cardin looks to be the presumptive victor in November. If, however, any chinks in the party armor emerge on primary night (regardless of outcome), we may be celebrating the inauguration of Michael Steele as our next U.S. Senator.

The next federal race on the ballot is the 6th District Congressional seat, with popular incumbent Roscoe Bartlett seeking to return to the Capitol. He does face a primary challenge, Joe Krysztoforski from Baltimore County. Expect Mr. Krysztoforski to remain there after September 12.

On the Democrat ticket, what should have been a walk away turned into a real race. Former Army officer Andrew Duck, of Brunswick, looked to fit a mold being shaped by the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), led by Illinois Rep. Rahm Emmanuel.

Mr. Emmanuel has re-energized the Democratic Party and has focused on finding these Iraq War vets. He even recruited one, retired Admiral Joe Sestak, to challenge my uncle, Rep. Curt Weldon, in Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District. That race is very tight, even though Curt is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.

The DCCC had recruited military veterans, preferably those with recent Iraq War experience, to challenge sitting GOP representatives and senators. Mr. Duck looked like the perfect choice; young, handsome, smart, and armed with plenty of photos of a camo-clad soldier holding a weapon in the desert.

Into this seemingly perfect scenario strode local attorney and activist Barry Kissin. Barry has established a reputation as a voice for peace and social justice over the years, so no one can call him a newcomer.

Barry's take on Iraq is of the "get out now, consequences be damned" variety. As expected, Mr. Duck suggests a more cautious approach, actually having been there and seen the consequences.

This reminds one of the Senate race in Connecticut, where newcomer Ned Lamont defeated long-time Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Democrat primary. Clearly, no one in the DCCC anticipated that Mr. Duck would be defending himself against a radical liberal as being to hawkish on Iraq.

While traditional liberals flock to this anti-war message, it looks like Connecticut voters are on the verge of sending Senator Lieberman back to Washington as an Independent. That same phenomenon could hurt Mr. Duck, who would have benefited greatly from a united Democrat vote in the primary.

All of this makes interesting political reading for junkies like us, but the simple fact is that the 6th Congressional District is nothing like Connecticut.

Analysis: Andrew Duck should win the primary, but it won't make the least bit of difference. Count on the re-election of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the only question is by how much of the vote.

Next up: Statewide races, including governor, attorney general, and comptroller.

* In My Humble Opinion

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