Miller's political future has long been the subject of speculation in Annapolis - he wields significant sway in the State House, is a prolific fundraiser for the Democratic Party and has held a lock on the top job in the Senate for more than 20 years. The 65-year-old Democrat, who represents Prince George's and Calvert counties, said two years ago that this current term would be his last. But yesterday he said that he still believes he has work to do for his district and the state and hinted that he may announce his intentions for the 2010 election during a fundraising event in Baltimore next month.
Miller, who spoke to reporters in the Senate office building that bears his name after a bill-signing ceremony, said that colleagues including Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat from Southern Maryland, as well as constituents he encounters in grocery stores and gas stations have asked him to run again, and that his wife is "not averse to it."
He also talked like a candidate for political office - speaking of his ability to serve as a bridge between the two counties that are divergent in their racial and socioeconomic composition and ticking off problems such as inadequate schools and roads that still need to be addressed.
"It's an area that my family has been in for hundreds of years, and I care very much for it, I really do. I get emotional just talking about it," Miller said, tears welling in his eyes.
Miller raised nearly $400,000 last year, according to a campaign finance report. While he frequently directs campaign contributions to fellow Democrats facing difficult elections, tongues began wagging in Annapolis about whether he actually meant to retire when the invitations to fundraisers began going out last year.
The latest event, scheduled for June 4 at Baltimore's InterContinental Harbor Court Hotel, features Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley as a "special guest" and costs $1,000 a person.
Several prominent Democrats said yesterday that they hoped Miller would seek re-election.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who has butted heads with Miller over his support for legalizing slot machines in Maryland, said that after the defeat of Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the General Assembly's presiding officers and O'Malley have come together over health care, education and even slots. Busch, who had opposed expanded gambling, helped Miller push through legislation to put the slots question to voters in a November referendum.
"If the president of the Senate had lost his enthusiasm for the General Assembly, I think certainly he has regained that in the last two years with the ability to work with this administration," Busch said.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who has indicated he would run for Senate president if Miller retires, said yesterday that Miller's leadership skills have helped him steer a chamber that, while dominated by Democrats, is fractured at times by conflicts between moderates and liberals and which has significant African-American and Republican caucuses.
Middleton said that kind of leadership is needed as the state confronts an uncertain fiscal future and divisive social issues such as the death penalty and same-sex marriage. Miller supports the death penalty and opposes same-sex marriage, but he has not typically pressured senators to vote one way or another on those issues.
"You're going to have to have someone who is president of the Senate who can lead those groups, to be in control," he said.
Middleton is one of three powerful committee chairmen who have emerged as potential front-runners to replace Miller as Senate president. Miller has held that position since 1987 and is the longest-serving Senate president in the country. The other senators who might vie for the post are Montgomery County Sen. Brian E. Frosh and Prince George's County Sen. Ulysses Currie.
Part of the calculus for Miller is finding a Democrat who could hold his seat. A Republican could stand a "credible chance" in parts of Miller's district that are trending more conservative, said James G. Gimpel, a government professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Miller himself has made strides in building the Democratic Party machinery in the district, said Chris Reynolds, chairman of the Calvert County Democratic Central Committee. That said, many don't want to see Miller go.
"It seems pretty clear to me that's the way he's leaning," Reynolds said, adding that he believes Miller's wife also wants him to run. "She doesn't want Mike coming home for lunch every day."
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