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Moderates play key role in elections

April 07, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND

In Maryland’s newly drawn 6th Congressional District, more than half of the Republicans who went to the polls voted for someone other than incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. So it’s possible, but not necessarily accurate, to believe he is finally ripe for the picking.

It is true that the seven other Republican candidates in the 6th did an excellent job of dividing and conquering — themselves. And no challenger was terribly inspiring to begin with; it’s a sign of how thin the statewide GOP bench is that a majority of Republicans can be in a mood for change, but there is no one to whom they can pass the torch.

One strong challenger to Bartlett might have stood a chance. Or might not. Bartlett came close to 44 percent of the vote, and he most likely would have been the second choice among a number of voters whose first choice was someone else — enough to put him well over 50 percent in a smaller field.

The results also show how well Bartlett has anchored his right flank. And they show that the district is conservative, not nuts. Some of Bartlett’s opponents who tried to step to the congressman’s right discovered poor footing. There’s no winning margin to the right of Bartlett — that conservative never-never land of tin foil hats and creation museums — even among the Republican base.

And even if there were, it would never play in the general election. An 11th-hour letter sent by state Sen. Chris Shank in support of fellow senator David Brinkley demonstrated the difficulty of executing what has become the GOP Two Step: Shank tried to paint Bartlett as an establishment moderate, due to his votes to raise the debt limit and for ignoring his pledge to serve only two terms.

At the same time, he suggested that Brinkley was the Republican with the “best chance” to keep his head above water in more liberal Montgomery County.

To review, Brinkley votes to the right of Bartlett, but he will be more palatable to the Montgomery County left. Really? How’s that supposed to work?

Curiously, it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who went the anti-establishment route, soundly rejecting Sen. Rob Garagiola, the Todd Marinovich of state Democratic politics — groomed for success, perfect in just about every traditional sense, but ultimately doomed by his own success.

Some in the party compared his campaign to the wildly unsuccessful gubernatorial run of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose credentials could not overcome a campaign that was as inspiring as rutabaga soup.

And Garagiola, with his pro-gas tax, pro-gay marriage statements of yore, would have been a perfect foil for Bartlett.

But Democrats didn’t take the bait, electing a strong pro-business candidate, financier John Delaney, who is very likely to be appealing among Chamber of Commerce Republicans,  who have no special passion for social issues. Indeed, early money suggests this election could become the Revenge of the RINOs, who are finally becoming fed up with being tarred as impure turncoats by tea party types.

Indeed, Maryland might be on the vanguard of a larger trend — the great meeting at the middle. At the same time that 6th District Democrats were choosing the businessman over the progressive career politician, Republicans were giving Mitt Romney his most convincing win south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Romney has been chastised through this campaign for winning primaries with “only” 30 percent of the vote. In fact, that’s Romney’s greatest accomplishment, and his greatest hope. If the Christine “I Am Not A Witch” O’Donnells of the world have taught us one thing about modern politics, it is this: Candidates who are the darlings of 80 percent of the Republican party, as it is now constituted, have no prayer in a national election.

For years, conservatives used the word liberal as a pejorative, and they could get away with it because the far left had a habit of — well, never mind; there isn’t time.

But now, as 20 percent to 30 percent of the public careens ever further to the right, the word “moderate” is being used with the same venom.

Nothing worse than a stinkin’ moderate. Except that in this nation, no matter what Rick Santorum tells you, probably 60 percent of the voting public conforms to this moderate label. You start making enemies out of the moderates at the national level, you are going to lose, be you on the far right or far left.

State Republicans and 6th District Democrats got the memo. And, although big-money super PACs are always a wild card in any race, don’t be surprised if this trend starts taking greater hold nationwide.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. His email address is timr@herald-mail.com.

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