Exhausted from a three-month-long legislative session that ended in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, several members of the Maryland General Assembly must now quickly decide whether they want to run for the seat likely to be vacated by Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) in 2006.
With Cardin almost certain to run for Senate — he may announce his intentions before the beginning of Passover late next week — two committee chairwomen in Annapolis are seen as the early frontrunners for the 3rd district seat, which would be coming open for the first time in 20 years. Cardin’s nephew, state Del. Jon Cardin (D), could also be a factor in the race.
Indeed, the election could have as many twists and turns as the boundaries of the Baltimore-area district itself. Drawn following the 2000 Census, the district is so circuitous that no one is entirely sure who lives in it.
“In this day and age, trying to figure out who’s going to win this district, you really have to get out the magnifying glass and see what the district is really composed of,” said Barry Rascovar, a political commentator for The Gazette newspaper and WYPR-FM radio in Baltimore.
For most of Benjamin Cardin’s Congressional career, the 3rd district included much of Baltimore City, plus significant and largely Jewish precincts in Baltimore County and other nearby suburbs. Beginning in 2002, the district lost a good chunk of its city voters and took in more Republicans and Reagan Democrats in Anne Arundel County.
Cardin complained bitterly about the changes, and many observers saw them as vengeance by then-Gov. Parris Glendening (D) on the Congressman, who had contemplated challenging Glendening in 1998. But the new lines did help Democrats flip two other GOP-held Congressional seats.
Ironically, taking on so much unfamiliar territory may end up aiding Cardin in his Senate bid: He has now
represented most of the Baltimore media market and a decent portion of the Washington, D.C., market. That would give him a larger geographical base than his prospective Senate primary opponents.
If Cardin’s seat comes open, the relatively new district lines will give Republicans an outside chance of winning there.
Once a Democratic stronghold, the 3rd district gave Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a 9-point victory over President Bush last year, even as Cardin was steamrolling his Republican opponent by 29 points. And Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who is up for re-election next year, is expected to run strongly in portions of the 3rd district, particularly in Anne Arundel County.
But it is unclear whether the GOP is poised to take advantage of the open seat. While several Republicans are eyeing the race, none is a powerhouse.
That leaves the Democratic side with much of the action and jockeying. State Sen. Paula Hollinger and Del. Maggie McIntosh are considered the strongest potential candidates at this early stage. Both said they are seriously considering the race and plan to move quickly.
Hollinger may start out in a stronger position. A 27-year veteran of the state Legislature who is now chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Hollinger represents the heartland of Jewish Baltimore County — an advantage in the Democratic primary.
“She’s in a good position because she’s a committee chairman in Annapolis, she’s well-known in the district and she’s acceptable enough to a large enough portion of the Democratic electorate,” Rascovar said.
Hollinger said that while she has taken no formal steps toward running yet, she gave serious consideration to making a Congressional bid in 1998, when Cardin flirted with running for governor — so she has already done much of the necessary due diligence.
“I kind of know where I’m going with this,” Hollinger said.
But McIntosh, chairwoman of the state House Environmental Matters Committee who represents a diverse section of Baltimore City, could prove to be a formidable foe. The first openly gay member of the Maryland Legislature, McIntosh said she would consult a pollster and other political advisers next week.
“Do I want to leave [the Legislature], where I’m a chair and in the majority, to go to Congress, where I won’t be?” she mused.
The stakes for McIntosh may be higher than that: At age 57, she is considered a leading candidate for Speaker of the state House when there is a vacancy.
McIntosh should have a powerful ally in the Congressional race, either overtly or behind the scenes: Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). McIntosh was a top aide to Mikulski for four years and managed the Senator’s first re-election campaign in 1992.
“I don’t put words in her mouth,” McIntosh said of her former boss. “But I do know this: We’re very good friends. She typically has not endorsed in a primary. But I know she’s always thought I’d make a very good Congresswoman.”
Beyond the two frontrunners are several other possible candidates, the most intriguing of whom may be Jon Cardin, the Congressman’s 35-year-old nephew.
The younger Cardin, who represents the same legislative district in the state House that Hollinger does in the Senate, is openly considering the race, but he said he must weigh how a Congressional run would impact the U.S. Senate campaign.
“If it negatively affects my uncle’s race, that will be a major consideration for me,” Jon Cardin conceded.
Although insisting that he wants to maintain a good relationship with Hollinger, the younger Cardin made it clear that he is not necessarily going to defer to her. In fact, Jon Cardin, a freshman in the Legislature, may try to turn his youth into an asset if he winds up running against the 64-year-old state Senator.
“As a chairwoman, as a grandmother, as a person who is well-respected [in Annapolis], going into the minority party in a very partisan neighborhood may not be the best place for her,” Jon Cardin said.
Cardin lives in the 1st district — by his own account, 100 yards from the 2nd and 3rd district lines — and said he is prepared to move.
Meanwhile, Del. Bobby Zirkin (D), another lawmaker from the same district as Hollinger and Jon Cardin, is also a possible House contender. But while he is ambitious, the 34-year-old legislator is seen as more likely to have countywide or statewide ambitions. He probably won’t challenge Hollinger, but he may jump at the chance to run for her Senate seat if she runs for Congress.
Also pondering the race are state Sen. Jim Brochin (D), who is unlikely to run if Hollinger does, and state Del. Neil Quinter (D).
A wild card on the Democratic side could be Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, who is term-limited in 2006 and is contemplating a run for U.S. Senate and lesser statewide offices. As the lone Anne Arundel County candidate in the field, Owens could run strong if more than one Baltimore County Democrat is in the primary. There is no runoff.
On the Republican side, potential candidates include Anne Arundel County Clerk of Courts Robert Duckworth, Congressman Cardin’s 2004 challenger, and state Del. David Boschert, who prepared to run in the previous cycle but dropped out.
The Baltimore Jewish Times reported last week that Alan Zukerberg, a community activist who challenged Hollinger in her Senate district in 2002, and businessman Mark Luterman are also considering the race.