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Spring Break Update for Marylanders in Congress

During Congress's current two-week spring break, a bipartisan trio of Maryland lawmakers took a trip to the tropics--a visit to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Sen. Ben Cardin and Reps. Steny Hoyer and Roscoe Bartlett made the two-day jaunt, with an overnight in the Tampa, Florida area, for meetings with top U.S. commanders at CENTCOM headquarters and a first-hand look at the place where some 150 suspected terrorists have been detained in the post 9/11 era.

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Their official trip on March 26 and 27 stands out as the only example of out-of-state travel at taxpayer expense during the current congressional break, according to Maryland congressional offices.

That isn't particularly surprising, since lawmakers are careful to keep junketing to a minimum in an election year (not that the trip, led by Hoyer, had the earmarks of a typical junket, unless touring a prison and chewing the fat with Gens. David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal is your idea of a good time).

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Rep. Donna Edwards made her first trip to Turkey, which has the advantage of being a strategically important country and one of the hottest travel destinations in the world at the same time.

The Prince Georges County Democrat was one of three House members on a week-long trip paid for by the Turkish Coalition of America. Like Edwards, the others, Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat, and Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican, have no 2010 re-election worries.

According to the group that picked up the tab, the congresspeople met with Turkish and U.S. government officials and business and civil leaders and attended the opening gala for the Jazz Department at Hacettepe University, which has become the first institution in Turkey dedicated to the study of jazz.

The coalition quoted Edwards as saying: "This is my first visit to Turkey and I definitely plan to come back. I appreciate the hospitality received, as well as all we have learned about the unique perspective of strategic relations between the US and Turkey."

Other members of the Maryland congressional delegation are mixing personal and official business--and campaign activity--during the Easter/Passover recess period.

In line with a nationwide Democratic sales campaign, the state's Democratic congressmen and senators have been staging photo ops and other events to spotlight previously announced stimulus spending across the state.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, up for re-election this year, made a number of stops around the state and held at least two Washington fund-raisers. She has another funder planned for this weekend in New Jersey.

The veteran Democrat from Baltimore faces token opposition as she tries for another six-year term. Fellow Democratic candidates are hoping that she'll be energized enough to help mobilize their party's demoralized base in the fall.

Public opinion surveys continue to show that Republicans are more energized to vote in this year's mid-term elections than Democrats.

A new Gallup poll, just released, shows the Democratic Party's standing with voters dropping to an 18-year low (though voters take a similarly dim view of Republicans). Another way to look at those numbers: Democrats failed to get a lift from passing a massive health care program just before Congress went on break.

Former Gov. Bob Ehrlich is counting on superior intensity among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to help him unseat Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley in the marquee statewide contest this fall.

The next big race--an expected First District congressional rematch between Eastern Shore freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil and Baltimore County Republican state Sen. Andy Harris--will also turn on turnout (actually, all elections are determined by turnout, if you think about it).

Kratovil, the most endangered Maryland incumbent in what looks to be an anti-incumbent year, has spent the recess highlighting his efforts to bring federal dollars to the district. Harris, styling himself as a congressional reformer, has promised not to request earmarks, if elected, setting the stage for a debate over spending.

Marylanders with party leadership responsibilities also used the break to do some politicking for colleagues in other states.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was helping Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, an incumbent in a competitive re-election race, and plans other stops this weekend.

Hoyer, the Democratic leader of the House, expected to hit nine congressional districts in Pennsylvania and Florida between last Tuesday and this Monday. He was in Allentown, Pa., on Tuesday, for a fundraiser on behalf of Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, who is in an uphill challenge against Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.

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