- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 1, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — When Parris N. Glendening was elected governor of Maryland in 1994, he was the first person from the two big Washington suburban counties to occupy the office since Oden Bowie’s term ended in 1872.

That span of 122 years without a governor from Montgomery or Prince George’s counties says a lot about the relative importance of the D.C. region in Maryland statewide politics in the past 200 years.

Residents of the Baltimore area, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland historically have filled most of the top state offices.

But with the rapid population growth in recent years in the Washington area, a major political realignment may be under way. There were signs of that in the September primary election, when four Montgomery and Prince George’s residents were among the 10 candidates chosen by voters to run statewide in the Nov. 7 general election.

“This is a clear sign that the Washington suburbs are beginning to flex their muscles,” said Paul Herrnson, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland at College Park. “It’s important to note that much of the growth in the state population has been around the Beltway in the Washington area. Montgomery County has had huge population growth.”

John T. Willis, former Maryland secretary of state, said that 30 years ago, Baltimore city and county were No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of election strength in Maryland. Now, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties cast more than 30 percent of the vote in statewide elections and outvote Baltimore city and county.

“Certainly in terms of pure numbers, the voting strength is now in the Washington metropolitan area,” he said. “Montgomery County has more registered voters than the entire population of the Eastern Shore, including kids. It’s hugely voter-rich.”

The power of suburban Washington was most evident in the Democratic primary races for attorney general and comptroller — won by State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler and state Delegate Peter V.R. Franchot, both from Montgomery County.

Mr. Franchot defeated two Central Maryland officials: incumbent William Donald Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. He finished more than 12,000 votes ahead of Mrs. Owens statewide, but he came out of his home county with a lead of about 39,000 votes over her.

Mr. Gansler ran a stronger race overall compared with Mr. Franchot, defeating former Baltimore State’s Attorney Stuart O. Simms by almost 55,000 votes. But remove Montgomery and Prince George’s counties from the equation, and Mr. Gansler would have won by only about 3,000 votes.

Two Prince George’s County residents also will be on the ballot in November — Republican senatorial candidate Michael S. Steele and Delegate Anthony G. Brown, Democrat Martin O’Malley’s lieutenant governor running mate. Mr. O’Malley is the mayor of Baltimore and Mr. Steele is the state’s lieutenant governor.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his lieutenant governor candidate Kristen Cox, Democratic Senate candidate Benjamin L. Cardin and Mr. O’Malley all live in the Baltimore metropolitan region, though Mr. O’Malley has Montgomery County ties. He was born and raised there, and his mother still lives in Montgomery County.

Scott L. Rolle, Republican candidate for attorney general, is from Frederick County, which historically has been considered part of Western Maryland but is being pulled more into the Washington orbit as suburban sprawl reaches beyond Montgomery County and into Frederick County.

Zach Messitte, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said there has been “a big political power shift from Baltimore to the D.C. suburbs.”

“It has not been an overnight change,” he said. “I really do think this has been a long time coming.”

Mr. Glendening, a Democrat, won with a narrow victory over Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1994 and was re-elected in 1998. Blair Lee III, a Democrat, was a Montgomery County success story in the 1970s, elected lieutenant governor, then serving briefly as acting governor when Gov. Marvin Mandel, a Democrat, was sent to prison on corruption charges.

Analysts say political power has not come more quickly to the Washington suburbs as the population increased because they are more closely associated with the District — reading The Washington Post, watching D.C. television stations, cheering for the Redskins and paying more attention to what is happening in Congress than in Annapolis.

James Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland at College Park, said another reason is the “lag” between the shift in election power and the shift in the distribution of office holdings.

“It takes awhile after election power has shifted from one region to another to position candidates so that they can win primaries and then win general elections,” he said.

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