It's up to Gov. Martin O'Malley, Maryland's top Democrat, to choose the next Republican senator from the Upper Eastern Shore.
One of the two candidates, Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. of Cecil County, said both he and his rival, Del. Steve S. Hershey Jr. of Queen Anne's County, will have face-to-face interviews with the governor Thursday.
The deadline passed this week for the four Republican central committees from the counties that make up the 36th District to send their selections to the governor for a replacement for Sen. E. J. Pipkin. The former Senate minority leader resigned this summer and moved to Texas.
The GOP central committees from the district, which are given the task of picking a replacement when an incumbent of that party leaves office midway through a term, split 2-2. Kent and Caroline counties chose Hershey of Queen Anne's County. Cecil and Queen Anne's picked Smigiel. Neither side would budge before the deadline passed Tuesday.
When central committees from multi-jurisdiction districts deadlock, the choice between the candidates that tie is left to the governor. O'Malley has two weeks to decide between two Republicans with similarly conservative voting records but vastly different styles. Hershey is known as a low-key, diligent legislator who works within the system. Smigiel is a confrontational and sometimes bombastic lawmaker who occasionally forms unlikely alliances with liberals to achieve common goals.
The candidate O'Malley selects will hold the Senate seat during the 2014 session and then face re-election. Smigiel has said he plans to run in the Republican primary no matter whom the governor selects. Hershey hasn't disclosed his plans.
Smigiel said last night that the impasse came about as a result of machinations by U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the state's lone Republican congressman and a bitter rival of Pipkin and Smigiel.
"It's not the governor's fault. He's got enough problems dealing with Democrats to solve Republican problems," Smigiel said. "It was Harris doing the whole thing. He wants to run the Republican Party."
Smigiel, who is known for his girth as well as his sharp debating skills, charged that Harris allies spread rumors that he was too ill to survive the next election -- an idea he dismissed as ridiculous.
The common wisdom at the State House is that O'Malley will pick Hershey, who is seen as less likely to disrupt the relatively collegial Senate. But Smigiel said he believes he has a shot of being chosen by O'Malley "if he has a good sense of humor and a short memory."
Neither Hershey nor a spokesman for Harris could be reached to comment Wednesday night.
This will not be the first time O'Malley has chosen a Republican lawmaker. In 2010, the governor had to decide between competing candidates when the Frederick and Washington county central committees deadlocked over a delegate seat. O'Malley picked the Washington County candidate, but the Frederick County choice prevailed in the primary that followed.
The governor could get a third bite of the apple if the fractious Shore county parties tie again when they try to fill the seat of the delegate O'Malley chooses.
O'Malley will not have a choice when it comes to the Senate's other vacancy. Montgomery County Democrats chose Del. Brian J. Feldman to fill the seat of Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, who resigned. Unless something unusual occurs, the governor is constitutionally bound to honor that selection.