Maryland won't get in the swing

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dipped his toe in Maryland's political waters to bestow his blessing upon Gov. Martin O'Malley's re-election bid. A day later, the National Rifle Association announced its backing for 1st District Congressman Frank Kratovil, one of the most endangered House Democrats in the country.

What should we make of the impact of these developments? Not much, frankly. The endorsements may help Messrs. O'Malley and Kratovil a little. But their electoral fates will not be determined by endorsements — and, in any event, there won't be many political surprises in Maryland this November.

The reason is that, like many other states, Maryland is representative of a paradoxical national trend toward states becoming less representative of the country as a whole. Marylanders may talk of their state as "America in miniature," but when it comes to partisan politics, Maryland is anything but a microcosm. Neither are solid Democratic states like New York or Vermont, nor Republican strongholds like Wyoming or Utah.

A few states — Minnesota, Massachusetts — have voted Democratic in presidential contests more consecutive times than has Maryland, but not many. Eight years ago, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Mr. O'Malley's predecessor, interrupted a long reign on the second floor of the State House by Maryland Democrats. But if recent polls are any indication, he's not going to do that again this November.

As for legislators, Republicans will probably net a few seats in the state Senate and perhaps a few more in the House of Delegates. But again, Democratic hegemony there faces no serious threat. On the federal level, even if Mr. Kratovil is swallowed under by this year's expected GOP wave, the Democrats will still enjoy an 8-2 advantage in the state's congressional delegation, counting its two senators. No Marylander under age 42 has ever voted in a Senate election won by a Republican, and I'll eat a copy of this column if Barbara Mikulski loses. How many people even know the name of her opponent? (It's Eric Wargotz, a physician and Queen Anne's County commissioner.)

In short, the partisan situation in Maryland on the day after this November's elections will probably look not unlike it did four years ago, after the last round of midterm voting: A Democratic governor and other statewide officials; solid Democratic majorities in the Maryland General Assembly; and a lopsidedly Democratic congressional delegation.

The national scene is less stable, of course. Republicans have a slightly better than even chance of recapturing the U.S. House, and a slightly worse than even chance of duplicating that feat in the Senate. But whichever party controls either chamber, their majorities will be thin.

After the 2004 presidential contest, top George W. Bush political adviser Karl Rove told us Republicans were leading a "rolling realignment" of the partisan system. Four years later, others — and I'll plead guilty to complicity here — openly speculated on the possibility of a Barack Obama-inspired Democratic realignment. The likely truth is that neither is in the works.

There is ample circumstantial evidence that partisan stalemate is now the normal state of affairs. My favorite factoid about the partisan divide is this one: Although the 1960 presidential election was basically as close as the 2000 contest (John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon nationally by two-tenths of a percent; Mr. Bush "beat" Al Gore by negative one-half percent), in 1960 there were 14 states carried by one party or the other by more than 10 points, whereas by 2000 there were 28 such states. The partisan mean was the same but the standard deviation had grown, as the blue states got bluer and the red states redder.

The 2010 elections may deliver some fresh, Scott Brown-style anomalies. (A Republican senator from California?) But the share of states with both senators from the same party remains at a near-record level, and often both those senators represent the party whose presidential candidate most recently carried their state.

I'm not suggesting that Maryland is immunized against the national forces at play this election cycle. I'd be surprised if Mr. Kratovil survives. My point is that Maryland is more insulated than most.

And a broader look at the electoral map reveals Republicans poised to claw back some of the territory they lost in the last two electoral cycles. The partisan tides rise and fall again, but the shoreline doesn't move all that much.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears regularly. His e-mail is schaller67@gmail.com.

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