State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno will not run for re-election this year, bringing to five the number of Senate Democrats who plan to step down and creating an opportunity for Republicans eager to eliminate their opponents' veto-proof majority.
Jimeno's Anne Arundel County district, which supported Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. by a 2-1 margin in 2002, is one of at least six seats in the Senate and 14 in the House of Delegates targeted by Republicans in the November elections.
The others in the Senate include two lawmakers from Anne Arundel County - James E. DeGrange Sr. and John C. Astle - as well as James Brochin of Timonium, Katherine A. Klausmeier of Perry Hall and Roy P. Dyson of Southern Maryland.
If the Republicans succeed in either the House or the Senate, the legislature that meets for the next four years could take on a decidedly different tone.
With commanding majorities in both Houses, Democrats stifled many Ehrlich initiatives and overrode many of his vetoes. Democrats now hold 33 of the 47 seats in the Senate; 29 votes are needed to override a veto or cut off a filibuster.
While Jimeno is the fifth Democrat to announce plans to leave the Senate, he is the first who represents a district where the GOP has strong prospects of making a gain.
Sens. Sharon M. Grosfeld and Leonard H. Teitelbaum of Montgomery County, Sen. Leo E. Green of Prince George's County and Sen. Paula C. Hollinger of Baltimore County all come from Democratic-leaning districts and are not seeking re-election.
Jimeno, a five-term senator and chairman of the Executive Nominations Committee, said he expects a fellow Democrat to beat any Republican opponent.
He said he has a preferred candidate to succeed him as the Democratic nominee but wouldn't identify the person except to say it was someone "from the community, who's served in the schools and knows this district and who's not a newcomer to politics."
Jimeno, 58, said his decision had nothing to do with Republican gains in his district, but his comments reflected the challenge that will face any Democrat in the county.
"I always wanted to know when it was time to go, and to go on my own terms. I didn't want to get beat out," he said. "We probably could have won, but it's time to go home."
Republican said the pressure they are putting on Democratic candidates in vulnerable districts is working.
"Democrats are aware of that, and some of them are scared. District 31 is an example," said John Gibson, executive director of the state Republican Party. "It's a district that no matter what the senator decided to do, we would have fielded a canidate with a strong opportunity to gain the seat."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Jimeno's district is one where Democrats have fared poorly in state and national elections but have won on the local level because of the popularity of candidates such as Jimeno.
Jimeno was elected 28 years ago as a delegate on a shoestring budget cobbled together by bake sales and raffles, using grass-roots campaigning to beat an incumbent. He was elected to the Senate in 1985.
Jimeno said the political climate in Annapolis has changed drastically over the years.
"It used to be that you fought hard in the election and went to Annapolis and worked together," he said. "There were never the bitter type of partisan politics and mean-spirited distortions that we have now."
Sun reporters Phillip McGowan and Andrew Green contributed to this article.