As the General Assembly prepares to draw new boundaries for Maryland's eight congressional districts, majority Democrats are considering plans aimed at squeezing out one or both of the state's Republican congressmen, according to a Democratic strategist familiar with the discussions.
One map under consideration would slice Republicans from the Western Maryland district now held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett but make only small changes to the boundaries of the state's six Democrats in the House of Representatives. The Eastern Shore district held by the state's other Republican, Rep. Andrew Harris, would actually become even more Republican.
A second proposal would improve Democrats' chances in both Republican-held districts. But in doing that, the map would make radical changes to all of the current congressional boundaries and would force sitting Democrats to introduce themselves to large swaths of new constituents. Copies of both maps were obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland who is closely following the redistricting process, criticized both proposals and called the first map "almost disgusting to look at."
"One thing's clear: There is nothing about reflecting population change. There is no attempt to respect existing boundaries or neighborhoods. It's totally about maximizing Democratic votes, nothing else," he said.
A competitive contest, whether in Western Maryland, on the Eastern Shore or both, would bring national attention and campaign cash to the state.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is expected to call the General Assembly into special session the week of Oct. 17 to approve new congressional districts to be used for the next decade, including next year's elections. Lawmakers must redraw the maps once every 10 years to accommodate population shifts revealed by the census.
Over the summer, a five-member panel appointed by O'Malley held a dozen public hearings on redistricting across the state.
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for O'Malley, said the governor has not received any maps from the panel and will not weigh in on the debate until the middle of next week. The governor did discuss redistricting in a series of meetings Friday afternoon with members of Congress.
Democratic members of the General Assembly are set to meet Monday in Annapolis for caucus meetings at which they are expected to talk about the proposals.
Either option would give Bartlett a tough fight in 2012. The 85-year-old congressman showed lackluster fundraising this year and has long been considered a possible target. Parts of his Western Maryland district have become more Democratic.
Other Maryland Republicans have not said they will challenge Bartlett in their party's primary, but a long line of potential candidates has emerged should he retire. They include state Sen. David Brinkley, state Sen. Chris Shank and state Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney.
The map known as Option One would put about half of Montgomery County into Bartlett's district, setting the stage for a strong Democratic challenge from state Sen. Rob Garagiola, a favorite of Miller's who has told The Sun that he is considering a run, depending on the new makeup of the district. He could not be reached for comment late Friday.
But the first map would make it difficult for Democrats to challenge Harris, who is making a name for himself as one of the most conservative House Republicans. That map would be a slap to former Rep. Frank Kratovil, who lost the seat in 2010 and is close toRep.Steny H. Hoyer.
The second option would give Kratovil a chance to win by creating a district that the option's authors believe would have given President Barack Obama 53 percent of the vote in 2008.
The second map would likely generate excitement from state and national Democratic partisans hoping to win back as many seats as possible in the House of Representatives. It would create eight congressional districts in which a majority of voters cast ballots for Obama in 2008, the option's authors say.
The second option could also be appealing to some from a public policy standpoint: It unscrambles many of the boundaries in the state's current map, considered by some to be convoluted.
Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, who are in recess this week, were hesitant to discuss the proposals.
An aide to Harris, the Baltimore County Republican whose district also includes the Eastern Shore, said the first-term congressman would not weigh in until he could study the 1st Congressional District's proposed new boundaries. A spokeswoman for Bartlett said he could not discuss the maps until he had a chance to speak with O'Malley about them.
Eberly, the St. Mary's professor, acknowledged that neither party nationally has a monopoly on gerrymandering. "Republicans in other states are doing exactly the same thing," he said. "It's just bad."
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.
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