The Maryland Democratic Party got through more than two hours of its annual pre-session  legislative luncheon in Annapolis Tuesday with nothing but love and peace and harmony in the air. Then, right at the end, came the dissension.

After Gov. Martin O'Malley closed the program with a rousing call for Maryland Democrats to unite to re-elect President Obama and U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, an unscheduled state Sen. C.  Anthony Muse mounted the podium and launched into an impassioned protest as the room emptied out.


Muse, a Prince George's County Democrat who is running against Cardin in the April 3 primary, contended that O'Malley and U.S. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer's violated party rules by using the event to issue full-throated endorsements of the incumbent.

Muse contended that elected officials should have withheld their endorsements out of respect for himself and the other Democrats who have lined up to run against the heavily favored Cardin, who has the support of most of the Democratic power structure.

"Only after the primary do we endorse those that the peopl;e have said is our Democratic nominee," Muse said. "All we ask for is fairness in the policies."

Left to do damage control was David Sloan, the party's executive director.

Sloan said the format of the event was essentially the same as in previous years, with incumbent Democratic congressional representatives --- along with the governor, Maryland Senate president and House speaker -- getting a place on the program. Rank-and-file state legislators haven't traditionally been speakers, he said.

According to Sloan, O'Malley and Hoyer were speaking for themselves in supporting Cardin. Sloan said the were free to do so, adding that the party does not censor what its elected officials say.

"The state party's position is we have not endorsed anyone in the U.S. Senate race," he  said. "We absolutely respect (Muse's) concerns."

Muse was not appeased, contending that using the event to support one candidate in a primary in unfair.

"This was sponsored with my money as a Democrat as well," he said.