- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2012

Maryland politics might be dominated by one party, but that doesn’t mean there’s no suspense on Election Day.

The heavily Democratic state will almost certainly go blue in Tuesday’s presidential election, but its voters’ intentions are far less clear on several high-profile ballot questions and a congressional race in the western part of the state.

The 6th District race and the ballot initiatives could stand together as a referendum on the state of politics in deep-blue Maryland. Democrats will have the chance to take over one more of the state’s eight congressional seats — giving them seven — and pass same-sex marriage and immigration proposals, putting the state at the forefront of progressive politics. But the party could also experience a backlash from voters if some of the Democrat-proposed ballot issues are rejected.

According to recent polls, Marylanders appear almost evenly divided on referendums to legalize same-sex marriage and expand gambling in the state. On Tuesday, they will also decide on ballot initiatives that would give tuition breaks to some college-aged illegal immigrants and uphold the state’s newly drawn and widely challenged congressional map.

The map created what is expected to be the state’s only competitive congressional race. Ten-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is trying to hold off a strong challenge from Democrat John Delaney in the 6th District, which covers conservative Western Maryland and was redrawn to include much of liberal Montgomery County. While Mr. Bartlett is the incumbent, many voters in his newly drawn district have never had the opportunity to vote for him.

Statewide, the race that has garnered the most attention is ballot Question 7, which would legalize table games at the state’s slots casinos and allow a new casino to be built In Prince George’s County.

Political action committees on both sides of the issue mounted the most expensive political campaign in state history, spending more than $60 million — coming almost entirely from casino operators — to persuade voters that expanded gambling will either bring jobs and millions of dollars for education to the state or will breed crime and addiction while giving politicians another excuse to spend recklessly.

While gambling has captured the most local headlines, the most national attention could go to Question 6, which could make Maryland the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Maryland is one of four states that will hold referendums Tuesday on the definition of marriage, and it could become the first state ever to legalize gay marriage in a public vote. Thirty-two states have previously held statewide votes on whether to legalize gay marriage, and in every case they have chosen to reject it and keep marriage between a man and woman.

Question 4 would affirm the Dream Act, a proposal to allow in-state tuition rates for some college-aged illegal immigrants. This issue has garnered heavy support in some polls and may be an easy victory.

It is less clear how residents will vote on Question 5, which would uphold the state’s congressional map. The map has received its share of complaints from Republicans and some Democrats that it was excessively gerrymandered.

“It is a completely visual argument, but it’s not a sexy argument,” said state GOP Executive Director David Ferguson. “Redistricting is not an issue that’s going to get donors fired up to get out there, but when they understand our argument and see the map with their own eyes, we win.”

The redistricting map, same-sex marriage and the Dream Act were all petitioned to referendum with the help of MDPetitions.com, a conservative group that made petitioning more accessible online.

While Maryland will have several close contests on Election Day, it will also have a few races that figure to be relative coronations.

Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is expected to win a second term over GOP challenger Dan Bongino and self-funded independent Rob Sobhani. Seven of the state’s eight congressional incumbents — including six Democrats and Republican Rep. Andy Harris on the Eastern Shore — are expected to coast to victory.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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