Maryland Republicans fall short of hoped-for gains in Senate, lose seats in House

Maryland’s Republican Party failed to achieve its ambitious goals for gains in the General Assembly as Gov. Larry Hogan’s coattails turned out to be remarkably short, in spite of his re-election victory.

The GOP’s “Drive for Five” — its effort to gain five seats in the Maryland Senate that would let it sustain Hogan’s vetoes — was on track to gain one or two seats. In the House of Delegates, Democrats were on a course to pad their supermajority by six or seven seats.

The results mean House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who both cruised to victory themselves, will still be able to override Hogan’s vetoes using only the votes of their fellow Democratic Party members.

“Voters viewed Larry Hogan as Larry Hogan, and they were willing to vote for him, but that does not mean they were willing to vote for Republicans overall,” said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College. “Marylanders may like the divided government that they have right now.”

Going into Tuesday’s election, Democrats controlled the Senate 33-14. They dominated the House 91-50.

These lopsided numbers made it possible for the Democrats to pass legislation routinely over Hogan’s objections and to override 15 of his vetoes. It takes 29 votes to override in the Senate and 85 in the House. The state Senate has a filibuster rule, but Miller has generally been able to muster the 29 votes it takes to shut down debate.

Live results: 2018 general election in Maryland »

With their veto-proof margins, Democrats were able to enact such policies as requiring employers to offer paid sick leave and eliminating the oversight role of the state Board of Public Works, which the governor chairs, over school construction projects.

As part of their campaign, Republicans targeted eight Senate seats, from Frederick County to Ocean City, in the hopes of flipping at least five. The “Drive for Five” covered Frederick County’s District 3, Baltimore County’s District 8, the District 12 seat representing parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, Charles County’s District 28, Anne Arundel County’s District 30 and District 32, the lower Eastern Shore’s District 38 and Baltimore County’s District 42.

The GOP did win the Eastern Shore seat of Sen. Jim Mathias and the Baltimore County seat vacated by Sen. Jim Brochin — the two most conservative Democrats in that chamber. But Republican Sen. Gail Bates was trailing Democrat Katie Fry Hester by 154 votes in a district spanning Howard and Carroll counties with all precincts reporting. In a closely watched local Senate race, Democratic incumbent Kathy Klausmeier appeared to fend off a challenge by Del. Christian Miele, who had been strongly endorsed by Hogan.

In District 12, Republican got their hopes up after the retirement of Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, but Del. Clarence Lam held the seat for the Democrats by a wide margin over Republican Joe Hooe.

The Republican effort to beat Sen. Ron Young in Frederick fell far short. The GOP also failed to take the district that includes the city of Annapolis as newcomer Sarah Elfreth thwarted the political comeback bid of former Del. Ron George, who ran for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014. The open seat in Charles County remained Democratic.

Not a single Democratic House incumbent was on track to lose, but five Republicans were trailing after all precincts were counted. In Harford County, Republican Del. Glen Glass was trailing Democrat Steve Johnson by 25 votes. Absentee and provisional ballots could decide such races.

Among the Republican incumbents ousted was Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a longtime Republican stalwart who served four years as Maryland secretary of transportation. He lost to Democrat Courtney Watson, a former Howard County Council member, in a single-member district includes downtown Ellicott City.

Eberly said the GOP losses in the House would wipe out most of the party’s gains in that chamber during the last two election cycles.

As a result of progressive victories in the June primary, the incoming Senate us likely to be less harmonious than it has been over the past four years, Eberly said.

“You will see a more polarized Senate between progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans, with a few moderates like Miller trying to manage them,” he said.

Even before the polls closed Tuesday, it was certain that there would be significant changes in the General Assembly because of retirements and primary losses by leading Democrats.

In the Senate, only one of the powerful standing committee chairmen will return: Bobby Zirkin, the Baltimore County lawmaker who heads the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Charles County Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton of the Finance Committee and Baltimore’s Sen. Joan Carter Conway of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee lost their primaries. Kasemeyer retired as chairman of the Budget & Taxation panel.

Miller announced this summer that Middleton would be succeeded by Sen. Delores Kelley of Baltimore County, Conway by Sen. Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County and Kasemeyer by Sen. Nancy King of Montgomery County.

In the House, longtime Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr. of Prince George’s County lost his primary contest. Busch said after the primary that Baltimore’s Del. Luke Clippinger would succeed Vallario when the legislature convenes in January.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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