- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State Democratic Party leaders are considering changing the date of the primary election to give nominees more time to raise money before the general election.

Expensive and contested Democratic primaries for governor and U.S. Senate loom next year.

State Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman said most of the party’s top elected officials, including its members of Congress and county executives, support the proposal to move the 2006 primary to June from September.

“It is one option we are looking at,” Mr. Lierman told the Baltimore Sun. “There is a lot of support among the state advisory council for doing this.”

He was referring to a group made up of Maryland’s two U.S. senators, six members of Congress, county executives, legislative presiding officers, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, the comptroller and attorney general, who have been meeting regularly to plan election strategy.

The change would need the approval of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to adjourn Monday. No legislation to make such a move has been introduced. It would have to come as an amendment to another elections-related bill.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, however, has not embraced the concept.

Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said Monday he was “kind of surprised” that the issue has surfaced so late in the session.

He said he was not sure whether there were 85 votes in the House to support such a change — the number needed because Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, would likely veto the measure.

“The initiative obviously centers around the gubernatorial race,” Mr. Busch said.

Mr. O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan are expected to battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next year.

If the election calendar stays as scheduled, a winner would emerge from the Sept. 12 primary with just eight weeks to raise money and implement a statewide strategy against Mr. Ehrlich, who is expected to seek re-election. If he does, Mr. Ehrlich likely would have no serious primary opposition and could have $20 million in campaign funds on hand.

The same problem confronts the winner of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. The Republican nominee likely will have funding from the national party in the quest to fill a seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes, who has announced he will not seek re-election.

The general election is Nov. 7.

Republicans say the current schedule has worked fine for decades, and they see no reason to change it now.

“It’s stupid,” said John M. Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.

“Why now all of a sudden should it be changed?” Mr. Kane said. “Because they don’t control the monopoly? Grow up. Move along. Next subject.”

Mr. Lierman, the Democratic chief, said the change would benefit both parties.

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