Note to my readers: This article is more detailed than my normal columns – I am unleashing my inner Michael Barone.
In any normal election year, the Maryland off-year elections should be relatively boring. If there are any real contests, it is likely to be a terrible year for the Democrats.
The only real statewide race is for Governor. Former Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich won in 2002 due to a longstanding feud in the Democratic Party between then Governor Glendenning and William Donald Schaefer, long-time Baltimore Mayor and former Governor. Glendenning’s Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend got caught in the cross-fire and lost. In 2006, the Democrats had a good year in Maryland and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley defeated Ehrlich.
This year, Ehrlich decided to run again for Governor against O’Malley. This race is polling closer than some others in the state. Long-time Maryland politician and commentator Blair Lee has noted that if the elections are seen as boring in the heavily Democratic regions of the state Ehrlich could benefit from low turnout in those areas.
Maryland Senate races are normally boring. The last time I can recall an incumbent U.S. Senator from Maryland losing was in 1970 when Democrat Joseph Tydings lost. The rule for Senators from Maryland is to keep a low profile on the issues of the day, bring home the bacon and attend community events. Tydings was ‘out front’ about various issues, including Viet Nam and lost his election to Republican J. Glenn Beall, Jr.
Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski won her first Senate election (1986) with 60 percent of the vote. In 1992 and 1998 she was above 70 percent. In 2004, a relatively good year for the Republicans, she ‘dropped’ to about 65 percent. Her Republican opponent is Eric Wargotz, a physician. If Mikulski’s vote share drops to anywhere in the low 50′s it will be a bad day for her. If she were to lose, it would shock both parties.
The First District is a generally Republican District. It is currently represented by Democrat Frank Kratovil. He won the district in 2006 through a combination of a good Democratic year and a Republican feud after former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest lost the Republican Primary to Andy Harris. Gilchrest backed Kratovil, who won. Now Kratovil is running against Harris. Even though Kratovil is running as the most independent (of the Democrats) person you have ever seen, no one expects him to hold the seat.
The Sixth district covers western and north-central Maryland. It is a long-time Republican district and everyone expects Roscoe Bartlett to hold the seat. Two districts, the 7th (Elijah Cummings -D) and the 4th (Donna Edwards – D) are heavily African-American districts and are expected to be won by the Democrats. The Eighth District contains the northern and western suburbs of Washington, D.C. It was Democratic leaning in the 1990′s but kept electing moderate Republican Connie Morella. This so aggravated the Democrats in the Maryland Legislature that, after the 2000 census, they overloaded the districts with Democrats to get Morella out. Chris Van Hollen won in 2002 and no one expects him to lose this time.
The 2nd district is generally considered a ‘blue-collar’ safe Democratic District. The incumbent is ‘Dutch’ Ruppersberger. He is a former Baltimore County Executive and has seen his percentages go up each election. His margin was 70 percent in 2006. This is likely a safe seat.
The 7th District is represented by the son of Former U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, John Sarbanes. He has only run in good Democratic years getting 64 percent in 2006 and almost 70 percent in 2008. Although this district looks like it was all that was left when the surrounding districts were created, it is a fairly strong Democratic seat. Again, should Sarbanes margin fall anywhere below 60 percent, eyebrows will be raised.
Ironically, the only seat in any remote doubt is the seat held by the most powerful member of the House representing Maryland. Speaker Pelosi was born in Baltimore, but she represents a San Francisco District. The Fifth District is represented by Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader.
Dick Morris, the former Clinton adviser turned Clinton adversary, has been predicting a rout by the Republicans for a long time. In a recent column, he wrote about the possibility of the Democrats losing a generation of leaders. He writes:
Hoyer’s opponent is Charles Lollar, an African-American former Marine combat officer described by a local newspaper columnist as ‘passionate about individual liberty.’ The first sign we will see that Hoyer is taking the threat as a serious possibility will be in television and radio advertising. This will be on Washington DC area stations.
Back when I was young (1970′s), Maryland was somewhat of a swing state and an interesting place to be for election advertising and the attention of politicians. For decades now, the state has been so ‘safely Democratic’ as to be boring.
These two numbers, if translated into popular votes in the 435 congressional districts, suggest huge gains for Republicans and a Republican House majority the likes of which we have not seen since the election cycles of 1946 or even 1928. For months, people have been asking me if this year looks like ’94. My response is that the poll numbers suggest it looks like 1994, when Republicans gained 52 seats in a House of 435 seats. Or perhaps somewhat better for Republicans and worse for Democrats. The Gallup high turnout and low turnout numbers suggest it looks like 1894, when Republicans gained more than 100 seats in a House of approximately 350 seats.
Barone continued with the caution that these numbers might not hold up. But, if this kind of tsunami election occurs, even Maryland could be hit. I will be watching the Hoyer seat and the margins in the other races. If either Sarbanes or Ruppersberger is in the low 50 percents it will be a disastrous night for the Democrats.