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As Long as We Remember...

November 30, 2006

"The Good, The Bad and The Ugly"

Tony Soltero

Everyone else seems to have already issued their perspectives on the recent election, but I haven't done this yet. So, on a slow news week, I thought I'd offer my impressions.

Maryland Governor: Now it can be said - I was one of those who thought Martin O'Malley would have a rough time defeating Bob Ehrlich. The incumbent governor wasn't particularly unpopular, polling consistently in the fifties, and while his administration didn't really accomplish much positive for the state, there weren't all that many stark embarrassments either. Mitt Romney he wasn't. (Thank goodness.)

Perhaps Governor Ehrlich's most damaging actions involved purging state-level positions and filling them with semi-competent cronies; while serious political observers certainly understood the importance of this, it's not exactly the type of issue that resonates with the man on the street.

But voters didn't buy into the Ehrlich campaign's divisive anti-Baltimore rhetoric - Baltimore is still in Maryland, after all - and many took it as a personal affront. Plus Mayor O'Malley was a far stronger candidate than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, which helped bring home wayward Democrat voters, especially in Baltimore County.

And the recurring theme of the election, at every level, was a national disgust with what unfettered Republican leaders had wrought upon the country, which didn't help anyone with the "R" by his or her name.

U.S. Senate: Michael Steele's campaign was a marvel of slick, fluffy vapidity, and such campaigns often work with low-information voters who are just looking for someone to make them feel good.

For awhile it appeared that we had an actual race on our hands. But in the end, Mr. Steele's evidence-free claims to be the "change" candidate rang hollow in the face of his deep ties to the Republican establishment - the party voters nationwide wanted out, and Maryland voters opted for the far less charismatic but vastly more substantial Ben Cardin, who's essentially a continuation of Paul Sarbanes in matters of policy. Yes, that is a good thing.

Maryland Attorney General: Scott Rolle did well in his home county, but Doug Gansler sported a much stronger and deeper organization statewide. No surprises here.

Maryland Comptroller: This race was decided in the Democratic Party primary, when Peter Franchot defeated incumbent Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens. Republican Anne McCarthy won in Frederick County, but not by enough to offset the more heavily Democrat parts of the state.

U.S. Congress, Sixth District : Democrat challenger Andrew Duck, an Iraq War veteran, worked extremely hard and presented himself as a strong alternative to incumbent Roscoe Bartlett; but in the end his campaign was just too underfinanced to effectively contest Representative Bartlett, especially in a district as heavily Republican as the Sixth. But Mr. Duck heavily outperformed every other congressional challenger in Maryland, and has built up enough name recognition to take a second shot at the seat in 2008 - especially if Mr. Bartlett retires.

State Senator District 3: In one of the most closely watched and contentious legislative races in the state, incumbent Alex Mooney barely held off political neophyte Candy Greenway to secure re-election.

Mr. Mooney had to summon all the out-of-state resources at his disposal to win his race - calling into question his long-term viability as a Maryland officeholder. Then again, the GOP doesn't have a particularly deep bench in this state, so Mr. Mooney's probably still going to be the focus of religious-right support in the General Assembly, along with ideological soul mate Donald Dwyer of Anne Arundel County, who also held on to his seat by the skin of his teeth.

State Senator District 4: The unopposed David Brinkley eked out a stunning upset victory. A bright, well-respected state senator, Mr. Brinkley is in the picture for a minority leadership role in Annapolis.

House of Delegates District 3B: Incumbent Rick Weldon, the popular and highly-regarded moderate Republican, handily defeated Democrat challenger Paul Gilligan. In a bad year for Republicans across the country, the moderates had a much easier time defending their seats. He and Senator Brinkley have emerged as legitimate contenders for Roscoe Bartlett's congressional seat on the Republican side.

House of Delegates District 3A: The Democrats successfully picked off a seat here, as Sue Hecht returned to Annapolis with a resounding victory, and Galen Clagett held on for second place, leaving Republican Patrick Hogan as the odd man out. There will now be more balance in the Frederick County delegation.

House of Delegates District 4A: In this sprawling, heavily Republican district I call home, voting patterns held true to form as incumbents Paul Stull and Joe Bartlett coasted to re-election over the lone Democrat, late entrant Maggi Hays. But Mrs. Hays performed solidly despite extremely limited resources, and revealed herself to be a very articulate and thoughtful public speaker. One hopes she tries again.

Frederick County Commissioner: Forget political parties. The voters made a big statement against reckless, unfettered growth in re-electing Jan Gardner and Lennie Thompson, and welcoming newcomers Kai Hagen, Charles Jenkins and David Gray, while defeating well-financed pro-developer incumbents Mike Cady and John Lovell. Of all the races in the county, this is the one in which the voters spoke with the clearest, most consistent voice.

So, while the partisan composition of the Frederick offices didn't change much, the ideological makeup did see a measurable shift, especially at the county-commissioner level.

It is also worth noting that even in a heavily Republican jurisdiction like Frederick County, the more extreme right-wing candidates had a much harder time holding their offices than the more mainstream ones.

So, perhaps a run to the right on the part of the Republicans isn't necessarily a winning strategy for the future.

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