GOP leaders say Md. election losses a result of national issues

November 12, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

Sometimes, what goes around, comes around.

It was scandals in the Democratic Party that brought Republicans to the helm in 1994, recalled Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Now, scandals swirling around Republicans - plus an unpopular war - have boosted the fortunes of Democrats not only nationally, but in Maryland as well.

While most Republicans running locally for state offices were successful, the story was different across the state. Most observers agreed that their losses resulted from issues that really had little to do with Maryland, and everything to do with Washington.


From Gov. Robert Ehrlich's bid for re-election to a number of Maryland House races, voters' frustration over Congress and the war contributed to a Republican rout. GOP operatives were reeling this week from their own version of what President Bush termed "a thumpin'."

"I'm not gonna sugarcoat it; it's devastating," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

'A national issue'

Shank and other Maryland Republicans had high hopes that Ehrlich would be re-elected, Lt. Gov. Michael Steele would best U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes, and that the GOP could pick up enough seats in the General Assembly to prevent Democrats from overriding Ehrlich's vetoes.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this was a national issue," Shank said Thursday. The state's voters, he said, "took out their frustrations on Ehrlich and Steele."

And on a lot of other people. Republicans, who hoped to gain 14 seats in the House of Delegates, could actually lose up to 10, depending on how absentee and provisional ballots in a few close races fall.

Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, credited national issues with being at least half the reason so many races went Democratic. In his own district, however, votes appeared to go along party lines, he said.

Munson suggested that in at least some state legislative races, other factors contributed as well.

"I do think there were some instances where some Republicans were out of the mainstream," Munson said.

In fact, two of the most outspoken Republicans in the House of Delegates, both from Anne Arundel County, were eliminated Tuesday. Del. Don Dwyer, who built a reputation as a firebrand and was the architect of a bill for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, lost his bid for re-election. Del. Herb McMillan ran an ill-fated campaign to unseat longtime Sen. John Astle, D-Anne Arundel. His House seat was filled by a Democrat.

But most felt the blue Democratic tide just proved too costly. Both Shank and the Democrat he defeated in 1998, Hagerstown attorney D. Bruce Poole, agreed that the national shift cost Ehrlich re-election.

"Nineteen of 24 jurisdictions voted for Ehrlich," Shank said. "This is not a mandate for (Baltimore Mayor Martin) O'Malley."

In the legislative races, Poole observed, "If you look at the losses, they're in precisely the areas that beat Bob Ehrlich. It was moderate Republicans in swing districts - not in the rural areas."

But now that the race is over, both sides were calling for cooperation.

"People are tired of all the fighting and bickering," Shank said.

"Now that it's over, we need to go back to the center," Myers said. "Let's close the door, and let's work together."

Blue resurgence

Although Washington County again only returned one Democrat to any office above the county commission, Patricia Heck, the new chairwoman of the county's Democratic Central Committee, took heart that Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Duck polled as well as he did against veteran U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. Duck still lost decisively, but managed to pull in 39 percent of the vote in a predominantly Republican district.

Heck said she also is beginning to see more interest in Western Maryland on the part of the state Democratic organization, and said she's working to increase that interest.

"We want to keep Washington County in the forefront of the Democratic Party," she said.

But Heck said she also is seeing a new trend in the party on a broader level.

"A lot of Democrats are realizing the country really does want the party to come back to the center," she said.

Bringing both parties to the center could be the key to future cooperation between them, both nationally and in Maryland. Both Bush and O'Malley spoke this week about cooperation, and Shank predicted success in the General Assembly "if a Governor O'Malley works from a centrist perspective; that remains to be seen."

But "if the Democratic Party centers itself ... it's gonna be tough to beat" in the future, Poole said.

Nevertheless, Poole wasn't counting Ehrlich out for a future race.

Ehrlich, he noted, had benefited from revenues generated by a booming real estate market. Now that the market has cooled, Democrats might resort to raising taxes to make up the shortfall, which means Ehrlich could be back, saying, "'You never had it so good,'" Poole said.

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