Tom, Rockville: What impact will the endorsements for Montgomery CountyExecutive Doug Duncan by [former] Gov. [William Donald] Schaefer and [former Baltimore] Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke have upon the Democrat primary between Duncan and [Baltimore] Mayor [Martin] O'Malley? Do you think that their endorsements will suppress voter turnout for O'Malley in Baltimore enough to tip the balance to Duncan?
Nitkin: Endorsements of politicians matter most when they have largepolitical machines behind them who they bring into the battle. Schmoke hasbeen out of office for a while, and has faded as a force in Baltimore;Schaefer is popular among voters, but the strength of his machine has alsoeroded. Their endorsements will not be decisive in either the primary orgeneral elections.
Tim, Rockville: If Duncan ends up defeating O'Malley in theDemocrat primary for governor, do you think that he would drop hislieutenant governor pick from the ticket and choose O'Malley to run on histicket in the general election against Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.]? Would O'Malleyaccept?
Nitkin: I can't see either happening -- Duncan dropping his runningmate or O'Malley accepting a No. 2 spot.
Ron, Gaithersburg: Why has Duncan done better than O'Malley againstEhrlich in several recent independent polls (Rasmussen)? What elsecan this possibly suggest except that Duncan is the stronger candidate inany general election contest with Ehrlich?
Nitkin: Politicians like to say that the only poll that counts is theone taken on Election Day. The Sun does not widely publicize polls that wedo not commission ourselves, because there is not a good way to verify themethodology and other factors -- such as the order of questions. The mostrecent Sun poll, conducted in November, had O'Malley ahead of Duncan in aprimary, 42 percent to 23 percent, with 34 percent undecided.
Rod, Timonium: Will O'Malley run for the Senate if he loses thisyear's election for governor?
Nitkin: I assume you mean for the Senate seat currently held byBarbara A. Mikulski, which is up in 2010? He can't run for the [Paul S.] Sarbanesseat and governor at the same time. As for the other seat, it's apossibility, yes.
Bob, Mount Washington: While The Sun has made a big issue of the differences between Ehrlich and [Lt. Gov. Michael S.] Steele on issues such as the death penalty, why hasn't there been equal coverage about the differences between O'Malley and [Del. Anthony G.] Brown on slots?
Nitkin: As the General Assembly session heats up and slots are debatedonce again, we'll write more on the topic -- including the differencesbetween Brown (strongly anti-slots) and O'Malley (who supports slots atPimlico to save racing jobs).
Bruce, Rockville: Do you think the politics of Frederick County as thedemographics change will eventually end up moving toward the Democrats theway Loudon and Prince William counties in Virginia appear to be doing afterthis last election in 2005?
Nitkin: That's an interesting question. I certainly think FrederickCounty -- which leans Republican -- has the potential to be swing territoryin statewide elections, and a lot will depend on the political inclinationsof the people who move there in coming years. There's a lot of growth inthe county, and the answer to your question depends a lot on identifyingthe people who make up that growth. But your analogy is intriguing.
Stuart, Baltimore: How come The Sun is not investigating theidentity of "MD4Bush" and his possible ties to O'Malley?
Nitkin: I've said repeatedly that The Sun is interested in learningthe identity of the Internet poster who talked about O'Malley. Thesource of the information must come from the Web site itself,www.freerepublic.com. We've gotten some information from them. We'd like to get more.
Ken, Frederick: Is Maryland being considered for becoming one of the nextearly primary states? Maryland, unlike the other early primary states,actually has some diversity. Would we not represent choosing a nomineebetter than all-white states like New Hampshire or Iowa?
Nitkin: National politicians were talking about having twomore-diverse states hold caucuses between the Iowa and New Hampshire voting.Maryland would fit the bill, but we've gotten no word that this is one ofthe states under consideration.
Jackie, Dundalk: Will Duncan invite Baltimore County's longest servingstate senator, and labor's No. 1 state senator, Norman Stone, to be hislieutenant governor?
Nitkin: Conventional wisdom holds that Duncan will select anAfrican-American leader from either Baltimore City or Prince George'sCounty as a running mate.
Editor's note: The next three questions are taken together.
David, Baltimore: Given that O'Malley promised to do more when he ranfor re-election in 2004, and then turned around just one year laterand abandoned the people of Baltimore by choosing to run for governor, will O'Malley resign if he loses either the Democrat primary to Duncan or the general election to Ehrlich?
Steve, Baltimore: What will O'Malley's political future hold should helose to Duncan in the Democrat primary or Ehrlich in thegeneral election in 2006? Will he stay on as mayor of Baltimore or dosomething else?
Doug, Rockville: If O'Malley is unsuccessful in the race for governor,will he stay on as mayor of Baltimore, resign or do something else?
Nitkin: If O'Malley loses the governor's race, many observers think hewon't run for re-election as mayor in 2007. There would be no reason forhim to resign. But I wouldn't rule out a return to politics later.
Wendy, Ellicott City: How big or small of an issue will women's reproductiverights be in the gubernatorial and the U.S. Senate races in Maryland?
Nitkin: It will be a larger issue in the Senate race than in thegovernor's race. Steele, the likely GOP Senatecandidate, is an opponent of abortion rights and the death penalty -- viewsthat stem at least from his days as a Catholic seminarian. Ehrlichbacks abortion rights, although activists on the issue such as the NationalAbortion Rights Action League aren't fully enamored of his position.
Jim, Columbia: Why does the Republican administration allow all of the gas gouging going on in Maryland?
Nitkin: The General Assembly this year will consider anti-pricegouging legislation, which became an issue following Hurricane Katrina.