- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — State Democrats have abandoned a plan to hold the 2006 primary elections earlier to give their candidates more time to campaign, amid concerns the move would appear too self-serving.

The idea started during the last General Assembly session when party members said the September primaries should be moved up on the calendar because winners would have only two months to regroup and prepare for the general election — particularly in the race against incumbent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Nobody so far is challenging Mr. Ehrlich in the primary.

But political observers say the Democratic primary race between Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan will be one the toughest in recent state history.

Not all Democrats supported the change.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said there is no sense in starting a partisan fight over a scheduling change designed entirely to help one party.

“It would look too opportunistic,” he said. Mr. Busch also said most Republicans would oppose the change, setting up a potential veto from Mr. Ehrlich, then more bickering among lawmakers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Calvert and Prince George’s counties Democrat, argued strongly for the change, then conceded there was little hope and said he will abandon efforts upon returning next month to Annapolis. “We’re not going to pursue futile things,” he said.

The Democrats’ situation in the race for an open U.S. Senate seat is similar to the one for governor.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume are among two in a field of Democrats competing for the job while only one prominent Republican — Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele — has officially entered the race.

Maryland Republican Party spokeswoman Audra Miller said Democrats were just trying to change rules that no longer helped them. Before Mr. Ehrlich, Maryland had not had a Republican governor in more than a quarter-century, so a late primary would have helped their incumbents, she said.

“It was one of those ugly underbelly attempts to change the political landscape because the Democratic Party controlled the state for 40 years,” she said. “It’s good to know that bad policy was rejected in favor of what’s best for Marylanders.”

Still, election laws could be an issue in the upcoming session.

Though Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch disagreed over the primary dates, they plan to override Mr. Ehrlich’s veto of an extended early voting period. Mr. Ehrlich has said that allowing residents to vote days before an election would invite fraud. Democrats say Republicans are afraid of larger voter turnout.

“We ought to do everything we can to create an opportunity for people to get to the polls,” Mr. Busch said.

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