Democrats holding out hope in several districts
Focus so far has been playing defense, but gains possible
ANNAPOLIS Maryland Democrats, who enjoy an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly, are not settling for playing defense this fall.
They are eyeing several possible seat pickups from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, even as Republicans take aim at flipping seats in moderate or conservative districts.
"I think that there are numerous areas where we will run candidates who we believe have a strong opportunity to pick up seats," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, whose party controls nearly three-quarters of the seats in both chambers of the General Assembly.
Several of the seats up for grabs are being vacated by Republicans seeking higher office or retiring.
Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis pointed to Brien J. Poffenberger in District 2B and Arthur Hock in District 36 as two candidates to whom the party will be devoting resources.
Poffenberger, who is on unpaid leave from his job as president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, is vying for the seat being vacated by House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown, who is running for Senate. Republican Neil Parrott also has filed for the seat.
"I think it's more a reflection that they recognize a well-run campaign, they recognize a serious candidate, and they recognize a message that really resonates with the people in our district," Poffenberger said of the party's hopes for his candidacy.
Hock is vying for one of three seats in the Upper Eastern Shore district, joining former Cecil County Commissioner William C. Manlove, a Democrat, and Rock Hall Mayor Jay A. Jacobs, a Republican. Four-term Del. Mary Roe Walkup (R-Dist. 36) of Worton is retiring, leaving at least one open seat in the district. Incumbent Dels. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton and Richard A. Sossi (R-Dist. 36) of Stevensville have yet to file for re-election.
Democrats see a number of other opportunities, said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, who chairs the state party's coordinated campaign. The party considers the seat held by Sen. Alexander X. Mooney (R-Dist. 3) of Urbana in play, based on the district's presidential election results in 2008.
Mooney's views don't align with voters in the district who backed Barack Obama, said McIntosh (D-Dist. 43) of Baltimore.
However, Obama (D) is a liability in other districts.
The political climate is not favorable to incumbents such as Sen. James Brochin, who represents a moderate Baltimore County district.
"The tide is exactly opposite from what it was four years ago," he said, pointing to the anti-Bush sentiment that saddled Republicans in 2006 and helped Del. Steven W. Lafferty (D-Dist. 42) of Stoneleigh capture one of the district's three delegate seats.
Although he thinks the caliber of prospective Democratic delegate candidates in his district is much stronger this year than four years ago, Brochin (D-Dist. 42) of Towson said it may be unrealistic to add seats. So far, Lori Albin, who works in the Office of the Public Defender, is the only Democrat to file, but more are expected to join the race before the July 6 filing deadline.
"I will be satisfied if I retain my seat and Delegate Lafferty retains his seat," he said.
Republicans are expected to field a full slate in the district with incumbent Dels. Susan L.M. Aumann (R-Dist. 42) of Timonium and William J. Frank (R-Dist. 42) of Lutherville teaming up with challenger John Fiastro Jr.
Republican leaders are vowing to be competitive statewide and are projecting big gains.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby believes the GOP can pick up 12 to 18 seats in his chamber alone.
"We're going to defend vigorously the seats that we hold, and I think we're going to make significant gains," he said.
Still, Democrats also are considering pouring resources into several Anne Arundel County races, including winning back the Republican-held seat in Busch's district captured in 2006 by Del. Ronald A. George (R-Dist. 30) of Arnold. "The sand is always shifting back and forth over there," McIntosh said.
Democrats also are targeting Del. Donald H. Dwyer (R-Dist. 31) of Glen Burnie for defeat, Busch said.
McIntosh is tempering expectations for 2010, saying she doesn't anticipate anything like the six-seat gain that House Democrats saw in 2006.
"I am optimistic that Democrats can pick up a seat or two," she said. "I have never, ever projected us picking up six [seats]. I just don't think it's the year for that."
Democrats who believe they can add to their ranks in November should prepare for a letdown, O'Donnell said. "I think they're whistling past the graveyard."