The last Senate vacancy in Maryland came a generation ago, in 1986.
In that race, two Members of Congress and a sitting governor competed in the Democratic Senate primary, with then-Rep. Barbara Mikulski emerging victorious.
Many political analysts in the Free State are predicting the same kind of shakeup now that Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D) has announced that he will not seek a sixth term in 2006. Within hours of his announcement Friday, five of the state’s six Democratic House Members said they were considering the Senate race, though Rep. Albert Wynn took himself out of contention Monday and others may soon follow suit.
“This is really the most exciting development politically that I could have thought of,” said Carol Hirschburg, a Baltimore-based Republican consultant.
Still, Sarbanes’ announcement — and the possibility that 83-year-old state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D) and 73-year-old state Attorney General Joe Curran (D) may follow the Senator into retirement — has created a rare season of political opportunity for ambitious politicians up and down the ballot.
“It’s really going to make things wild and crazy,” predicted Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., an independent polling firm in Bethesda.
With Schaefer and Curran insisting for now that they will run for re-election next year, the biggest scramble at the moment is among the potential candidates for the House seats that could become available if their occupants run for Senate in 2006. It is largely taking place out of view, in contrast to the Senate deliberations of the House Members, but it is no less intense.
In Rep. Elijah Cummings’ Baltimore-based 7th district, and in Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s 8th district, there is already a long list of potential candidates in place. Both are Democratic strongholds where all of the meaningful action would be in a Democratic primary.
There are fewer obvious successors-in-waiting in two Baltimore-area districts that include portions of the city and some conservative-leaning suburbs, where open seats could lead to competitive races between the two parties.
In Van Hollen’s 8th district, which takes in most of Montgomery County and a sliver of Prince George’s County, Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman, the Democratic nominee in the 8th district in 2000, would probably be the early frontrunner. Lierman, a wealthy businessman, has retained the loyalty of many grass-roots party activists in the district, and is credited with softening up then-Rep. Connie Morella (R), whom Van Hollen defeated two years later.
But Lierman is unlikely to have the field to himself. Former Del. Mark Shriver (D), a Kennedy family scion who came within a hair of winning the Democratic nomination in 2002, could also run again. Shriver, who is now a vice president of the nonprofit organization Save the Children, did not respond to a message left at his office Monday.
Other ambitious state and local officials would probably also consider the race, including Montgomery County Councilman Phil Andrews; state House Majority Leader Kumar Barve; state Del. Bill Bronrott; Del. Peter Franchot; state Sen. Brian Frosh; state Sen. Sharon Grosfeld; and Del. John Hurson, the current president of the National Conference of State Legislators.
In the 7th district, where Cummings was elected in a crowded 1996 special election to replace Kweisi Mfume, who left Congress to become president of the NAACP, an equally large number of candidates could run to succeed him. While Cummings is seen as far less likely to run for the Senate now that Mfume has jumped into that race, he is mentioned as a possible successor to Mfume at the civil rights organization, so several interested pols will continue to watch and wait.
Potential candidates include Del. Talmadge Branch; Baltimore City Clerk of Courts Frank Conaway; state Sen. Joan Carter Conway; Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon; state Sen. Lisa Gladden; state Del. Salima Siler Marriott; state Senate Majority Leader Nathaniel McFadden; Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell — a nephew of former Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), who held the seat before Mfume; former Judge Billy Murphy; Baltimore City Comptroller Joan Pratt; Baltimore City Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings Blake; the Rev. Frank Reid III, who was runner-up to Cummings in the 1996 special primary; and former Maryland Public Safety Secretary Stu Simms.
Thanks to the last round of redistricting, Benjamin Cardin’s (D) Z-shaped 3rd district, which takes in portions of Baltimore city, Baltimore County, a good chunk of Anne Arundel County and a slice of Howard County, may be the most competitive in the state. Cardin has won his past two elections easily, but there are enough Republicans and Reagan Democrats in the district to make Republicans optimistic about their prospects in an open seat scenario.
Democrats seen as possible candidates include Del. Jon Cardin, the Congressman’s nephew; state Sen. Paula Hollinger; Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz; Del. Dan Morhaim; Del. Maggie McIntosh, the first openly gay member of the Legislature and a close confidant of Mikulski’s; and Del. Bobby Zirkin.
Potential Republican contenders include Del. David Boschert, Del. John Leopold and the 2004 nominee, Anne Arundel County Clerk of Courts Robert Duckworth.
Dutch Ruppersberger’s (D) 2nd district was in Republican hands from 1994 to 2002, but it was made considerably more Democratic in the last redistricting, with Ruppersberger in mind.
Potential Democratic candidates include Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder; businessman Oz Bengur, who finished second to Ruppersberger in the 2002 Democratic primary; Maryland Injured Workers Insurance Fund Executive Director Thomas Bromwell; and Baltimore County Councilman Johnny Olszewski.
Potential Republican contenders include state Senate Minority Whip Andrew Harris and Maryland Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports.
Very few of these dozens of names would be floated as potential House candidates had Sarbanes not announced his retirement last week.
“It creates a higher level of interest [among voters and political activists] than if Sen. Sarbanes had run for re-election,” said Patrick Gonzales, president of Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies of Annapolis, an independent polling firm.