- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Republicans expect to make significant gains in next year’s elections, incrementally advancing the political realignment they say began with the 2002 election of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — the state’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years.

Republicans expect to pick up as many as seven seats in the state Senate and 14 seats in the House of Delegates, Maryland Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane told The Washington Times.

“I’m optimistic because [the Democrats’] voting record in general is out of step with the voters,” he said. “I’m optimistic on the internal polling we’ve done.”

The gains envisioned by Mr. Kane would drastically alter the balance of power in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly, where the majority has enjoyed a greater than 2-to-1 advantage for a generation.

An increase of seven seats in the state Senate would give Republicans 21 senators to the Democrats’ 26. In the House, winning 14 more seats would give Republicans 57 of the chamber’s 141 delegates.

Currently, there are 33 Democrats and 14 Republicans in the Senate, and 97 Democrats and 43 Republicans in the House. Delegate Tony E. Fulton, Baltimore Democrat, died last month and his seat is vacant.

The change would make it much more difficult for Democratic lawmakers to overturn Mr. Ehrlich’s vetoes, block his agenda and push through legislation to diminish the governor’s executive powers — moves that characterized the partisan clash in this year’s General Assembly session.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker said the Republican chairman was overly optimistic.

“He should be commended for wishful thinking,” said Mr. Walker, adding that his party expects to win an extra seat or two in both chambers next year.

Mr. Walker pointed out that registered Democratic voters continue to outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1 in the state. “Maryland is still incredibly strong for Democrats, and we plan to put the exclamation point on that next year,” he said.

Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Republicans might win some seats in the legislature next year, but their party’s success will be closely tied to Mr. Ehrlich’s statewide popularity.

A strong showing at the top of the ballot by either of the likely Democratic challengers — Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley or Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan — would probably keep the status quo in the General Assembly, he said.

“A lot of their fate depends on Ehrlich,” Mr. Schaller said. “There are not many coattails in politics anymore, but because the Republican Party is so new in Maryland, it is still an Ehrlich party.”

Mr. Kane conceded that Democrats would retain control of heavily populated Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. But he said Republican dominance in much of the rest of the state will suffice as the GOP slowly makes inroads to the big three jurisdictions.

“The red has to be redder and blue has to be paler,” he said.

Some Democratic lawmakers also see tough times ahead.

“In the next election, there is going to be problems, definitely in the rural areas,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany County Democrat. “[Voters] don’t want to see tax-and-spend policies, and I would certainly think that is a shared sentiment in the suburban districts like Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County.”

Mr. Kane said that in addition to encouraging poll numbers, he was enthusiastic about the party’s “72-hour plan,” which will incorporate a final campaign blitz for Republican candidates with a statewide get-out-the-vote effort.

“We have found great success using that [plan] to turn out the voter base,” he said. “Ohio had a great model of it [in the 2004 presidential election], and we are going to put together a similar model in Maryland.”

He said the predicted gains were based on “early numbers” and, with 18 months before the election, the party could pick up more seats if U.S. Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Albert R. Wynn, both Democrats, enter the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

Several Democratic state lawmakers would probably step up to replace Mr. Van Hollen and Mr. Wynn, leaving formerly safe General Assembly seats open to a Republican challenge.

“We are looking forward to an opportunity to have some very competitive races,” Mr. Kane said.


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