T-minus one year, election field slow to materialize
Primary races could carry most intrigue as candidates jockey for position
For political junkies, the 2006 election was an intoxicating thrill ride.
So far, next year's campaign looks more like the tea cup ride.
With eight months to go until the filing deadline and the primaries less than 10 months away, only minimal campaign activity has taken place and more questions than answers are in play.
Or, as House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank put it, there's a "lack of political clarity."
That includes him.
Shank (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown is mulling a challenge from fellow Republican Sen. Donald F. Munson, one of several potentially intriguing primaries taking shape for 2010.
"It has the potential to be a closely fought, hand-to-hand, on-the-ground battle," said Shank, who is painting Munson of Hagerstown as too liberal for his Western Maryland district.
But Shank's failure to formally declare his intentions is part of a wider trend of indecision among officeholders and prospective candidates that is fueling speculation and presenting few answers.
"Things are more unsettled this year than they have been in the past," Shank said. "If you look back at 2006, you had a pretty clear idea [who was running for what]. The playing board was fairly well defined."
Foremost among them is whether former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will try to reclaim his old job.
Ehrlich (R) recently said he's still weighing his options, conducting polls and staying active with Republican groups and through his weekly radio show. In recent interviews, he has sounded content to wait several more months to make a decision, perhaps to assess the national mood and Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) handling of the state budget in next year's legislative session.
The pressure is on Ehrlich to jump in and give Maryland a marquee statewide contest it otherwise would likely lack, political scientists said.
The other major seats up for grabs, held by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, all Democrats, have attracted only marginal interest from prospective challengers to date.
"Usually, the cast of characters a year out is pretty well known," said McDaniel College political science professor Herb Smith.
That's largely because the GOP lacks what former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver called "deep depth," Smith said.
Ehrlich and former first lady Kendel Ehrlich "pretty much constitute the A-list" for Republicans, he said.
Shank has another rationale.
"We live in uncertain times right now," he said. "I think it is reflected in our politics in the nation and the state. Things could change very quickly and that is conducive for the very volatile political climate that we're in, much more unsettled than it was four years ago."
A matchup between O'Malley and either Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. or Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Dist. 7) of Middlesex, both of whom are testing the waters for a potential run if Ehrlich opts out, would be far less dramatic.
Smith is skeptical that Republican gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia this month will carry over to Maryland next year. Those outcomes had more to do with the Democratic incumbent's abysmal approval rating in New Jersey and the Democratic challenger's poorly run campaign in Virginia.
But incumbents and challengers should take note that both Republicans "ran Obama-sounding campaigns of change," he said.
If Republicans are able to seize the "change" mantra that propelled President Barack Obama (D) to victory in 2008, it could spell trouble for Democrats, said Michael J.G. Cain, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Further down the ballot, the races are taking shape, albeit slowly.
In another race that may garner national attention, Rep. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D-Dist. 1) of Stevensville will try to retain his congressional seat, possibly against state Sen. Andrew P. Harris (R-Dist. 7) of Cockeysville, whom he defeated last year, or state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton, who has twice before run and lost for federal office.
Things could get interesting for Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Dist. 4) of Fort Washington. Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), long considered a likely contender for the county executive seat being vacated by Jack B. Johnson, revealed Wednesday that he is instead exploring a congressional bid. Del. Herman L. Taylor Jr. (D-Dist. 14) of Ashton also might go after Edwards' seat.
Yet some of the most intriguing action might transpire in legislative contests if several presumed candidates join the fray.
The Shank vs. Munson showdown would be among the primary races to watch.
Del. J.B. Jennings (R-Dist. 7) of Phoenix and former state insurance commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. are vying to succeed Harris, but the GOP nominee might have to defeat term-limited Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. (D). He announced several months ago that he is moving into the district, leading to speculation in political circles that he might have his sights set on the seat. Smith has yet to reveal his 2010 plans.
Montgomery County could have numerous primary battles. One will pit Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) of Rockville against former Del. Cheryl Kagan in a race that already is off and running. Another could match Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village against Del. Saqib Ali (D-Dist. 39) of Gaithersburg. And Sen. Mike G. Lenett (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring might face an intraparty challenge.
Democratic primary contests also are shaping up in Prince George's County and Baltimore city, with Sens. Nathaniel Exum (D-Dist. 24) of Capitol Heights, Sen. Verna L. Jones (D-Dist. 44) of Baltimore and Sen. David C. Harrington (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly among the possible targets.
This week, former Prince George's County Fraternal Order of Police president Percel "Percy" O. Alston formally launched his campaign for the House of Delegates, signaling a possible changing of the guard in a district currently represented by House Judiciary Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Upper Marlboro and Del. James E. Proctor Jr. (D-Dist. 27A) of Accokeek, who are both in their 70s.
"This is as good a time as any to test the waters and see if you can move up a bit," Cain said.
Also this week came the bombshell announcement that Del. Murray D. Levy (D-Dist. 28) of La Plata will not seek re-election, which shook Charles County's political community and left candidates reassessing their electoral prospects.
But that's not all.
The best race might be for Prince George's county executive, where five Democrats already are planning to run for the open seat former delegate and two-time executive candidate Rushern L. Baker III, Sheriff Michael A. Jackson, Del. Gerron S. Levi (D-Dist. 23A) of Woodmore, and County Councilmen Samuel L. Dean (D-Dist. 6) of Mitchellville and Tony Knotts (D-Dist. 8) of Temple Hills and several others still might jump in.
Baltimore County voters also will elect a new executive, and the top job in Anne Arundel County could be a matchup of the current executive John R. Leopold (R) and his predecessor, Democrat Janet S. Owens.
Although 2010 will have its share of political intrigue, Herb Smith said the subsequent statewide election in 2014 promises to be even more exhilarating, with numerous up-and-comers vying for a limited number of high-profile offices.
So much could happen between now and then congressional and legislative redistricting, for one that the political landscape might bear little resemblance to how it currently looks, Smith said.
"You're talking almost in geological terms," he said of how politics can change in five years.
Correction: The original version of this story did not full identify Michael J.G. Cain, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland