- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2008


If “change” is not heavy on voters’ minds in this 2008 election cycle, that leaves much explaining in the wake of Maryland’s primary upheaval. Two of the state’s eight House members, one Democrat, Rep. Albert Wynn, and one Republican, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, lost to energetic challengers Tuesday. Mr. Wynn was outflanked on the left and Mr. Gilchrest on the right. Neither was “scandalized” by today’s admittedly low standards. The last time two Maryland House incumbents lost primary challenges in one year was 1970. In recent cycles, House incumbency retention rates register in the high 90s.

On the Eastern shore, nine-term Republican Mr. Gilchrest lost to the solid conservative state Sen. Andy Harris, whom this newspaper endorsed. In the 4th Congressional District, which comprises much of Prince George’s County and parts of Montgomery County, the eight-term Democrat Mr. Wynn lost to lawyer and foundation executive Donna Edwards. Barring unexpected developments, both victors should be headed to Washington on account of district leanings.

In a year of poor Republican House prospects and much speculation of a second Democratic “wave,” both cases are telling. Mr. Wynn’s collapse shows that the “change” analysis is not limited to incumbents of one party; a non-scandalized Democrat can be booted, too. Meanwhile, the unseating of Mr. Gilchrest by the more conservative Mr. Harris may suggest that the conservative base is not as dispirited as many think.

Both challengers were able to capitalize upon questions of district “fit.” The pro-choice, antiwar Mr. Gilchrest was clearly out of sync with a district that the Cook Political Report rates “R+10” for its conservative inclinations. Its voters sided 62 percent for President Bush in 2004 compared with 36 percent for John Kerry — an increase over a 2000 Bush-Gore split of 57-40.

In the 4th District, Mr. Wynn was open to charges that he has not legislated liberally enough. Mrs. Edwards criticized him for siding with the Bush administration on the Iraq invasion, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other hot-button issues. In a very liberal district which Cook rates “D+30,” Mr. Wynn scored 65-75 “liberal” percentages in National Journal’s ratings. This was an opportunity.

Incumbents in more normal cycles can often survive questions of “fit.” The popular moderate Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards, who represents Mr. Bush’s home district, rated “R+18,” is a cardinal example.

Voters are clearly anxious for change. Maryland shows that a great many are inclined to “throw the bums out.”

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