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Maryland Election 2010: Republicans hope for General Assembly gains

A Maryland Election 2010 dispatch from the Baltimore Sun's Michael Dresser

With a national “wave” election projected and with their national party expecting big gains in Congress, Maryland Republicans are hoping to make substantial strides toward gaining leverage in the Maryland General Assembly, a traditional bastion of Democratic strength.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that we’re going to pick up seats in both houses,” said Ryan Mahoney, political director for the Maryland Republican Party. He said a good night would bring a pickup of seven to 15 House seats in the 141-seat chamber.

But Alexandra Hughes, spokeswoman for House Speaker Michael E. Busch, expressed confidence that Democrats will hold their losses — if any — to a minimum.

“If the stars align for them, maybe we lose 6-7 seats,” she said. More likely, Hughes said, would be a change of “plus or minus 3” in a House that now has 104 Democrats and 37 Republicans.

The General Assembly has long been a font of disappointment for Maryland’s outnumbered Republicans. Not since 1994 has the party made appreciable gains in either the Senate or the House, and even then they didn’t come close to threatening Democratic dominance.

With actual control of either chamber far out of reach, the legislative Holy Grail for the GOP has been to reach the magic number of Senate seats — 19 out of 47 — where they could sustain a filibuster without attracting a single Democratic ally. As it stands, with a 33-14 Democratic advantage, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller invariably twists enough Democratic arms to invoke cloture.

This year, the GOP is hoping a national tide can bring them the five take-aways they need to reach that goal.

“If we had five additional seats in the state Senate, we would move from being a party and a caucus the Dems can just ignore . . . to where we have some clout,” Mahoney said.

But history is not encouraging.

Even in 2002, a good Republican year nationally and one in which they elected their first governor since 1966, the GOP made modest progress in the House to reach 43 seats — then gave them back in 2006. This year, with former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lagging in the most

recent polls, it is unclear whether national trends will reach Maryland’s down-ballot races.

Republican prospects have been limited by the solid wall Democrats have erected around Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Not since 1994 has a Republican been elected to the legislature from a Prince George’s district; the last remaining Montgomery County GOP delegate was defeated in 2006. Its last Republican senator went down to defeat in 2002.

This year, Mahoney holds out hope of some breakthroughs in the Washington suburbs, contending that incumbent Sen. Brian E. Frosh could be vulnerable to a challenge from Republican Jerry Cave. But Frosh has routinely dispatched challengers with more than 70 percent of the vote in the ultra-liberal district, making such a result a decided long shot.

The parties agree that the most embattled Senate Democrats are Anne Arundel County’s John Astle and Baltimore County’s James Brochin. Republicans have hopes of toppling Roy Dyson of Southern Maryland and Edward J. Kasemeyer, who represents a district straddling Baltimore and Howard counties. If Ehrlich runs strongly in Baltimore County, the seats of

Democratic Sens. Kathy Klausmeier and Norman Stone could be in play.

Democrats dream of upsetting Frederick County Republican Sen. Alex Mooney, but might have a more credible shot of picking up an open seat on the Eastern Shore.

Some first-time senators will coast into office with no general election opposition on the ballot. In Baltimore, Bill Ferguson is assured of taking the seat he wrested from longtime Sen. George W. Della Jr. in the Democratic primary. In Prince George’s, Democratic delegates Joanne Benson and Victor Ramirez face no opposition after unseating incumbents. In Washington County, Del. Christopher Shank faces a write-in challenge from the incumbent he knocked off in the Republican primary, Sen. Donald Munson.

In the House, key battlegrounds will be in Baltimore County and in northern Anne Arundel County, where the controversy over slots at Arundel Mills has cast a shadow on the re-election bids of three incumbent Democratic delegates.

Hughes expressed confidence that the vast majority of Democratic incumbents will win re-election. If the party has problems, she said, they will likely come in districts with open seats.

Republicans are hoping they can duplicate their feat of 2002, when they knocked off the Democratic speaker of the House, Casper R. Taylor Jr., in his Western Maryland district. Ehrlich said at one point that his strategy for dealing with a Democratic legislature would be to “beat Busch” and “medicate” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

But Hughes said Republicans haven’t come after Busch this year on his record as speaker.

She expressed confidence that he will prevail in his Annapolis district.

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