Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District was once well-known — notorious even — for being among the most gerrymandered in the nation.
It was part of a redistricting map that state Democrats had designed to maximize their electoral advantage.
But in 2022, the district, which had combined portions of Baltimore City and four counties, was redrawn by the General Assembly to make it more compact, and — under a court’s guidance — fairer.
Now the district, which includes Howard County and parts of Anne Arundel and Carroll counties, will undergo another big change with the departure of Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, who has held the seat since 2007. Sarbanes will serve the remainder of his term, through 2024.
Republicans believe the new map — and, more significantly, Sarbanes’ absence from the ballot for the first time in 18 years — gives them a shot at flipping the still-blue district in next year’s election.
It won’t be easy.
“It is still predominantly Democrat,” said Republican Yuripzy Morgan, a lawyer and former WBAL-AM political talk show host who said she is seriously considering running again for the seat.
“It’s a different race without an incumbent,” Morgan said.
Morgan lost her bid to unseat Sarbanes in 2022, but got nearly 40% of the vote. That was the first election in which the new map was in effect. Her percentage was higher than most of Sarbanes’ previous Republican challengers.
“One thing I think Republicans have to recognize is this is not a district that is going to be won by anybody associated with Donald Trump,” said Morgan, who said she espouses many of the values of the late Republican President Ronald Reagan.
Democrats accounted for 62% of the district’s voters registered with either of the two major parties in the 2022 election, according to Maryland State Board of Elections figures.
But the number of registered Democrats — 249,904 — was less than in any of the state’s other Democrat-held districts except for the 6th District in Western Maryland. That’s where incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. David Trone, now running for the U.S. Senate, narrowly won a third term in 2022 over Republican Neil Parrott.
“The retirement of Congressman Sarbanes does give a greater opening to a Maryland Republican running for the CD3 seat next year,” Nicole Beus Harris, the Maryland Republican Party chairwoman, said in a statement Monday to The Baltimore Sun. “While it will be a tough fight, it is also not impossible. We believe that the Republican message and platform will connect with more Marylanders as we get into 2024.”
The Democrats’ advantage has shrunk since the 3rd District was reconfigured as part of congressional redistricting, which is done every 10 years to reflect population shifts. Before, in the 2018 election — which, like 2022, featured a gubernatorial race — Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans 70% to 30%.
The key to Democrats’ success is rolling up large margins in Howard County, where their voter registration advantage is most pronounced. Sarbanes more than doubled Morgan’s vote total in the county in 2022. She fared better in Anne Arundel County, netting 45.5%.
“Howard County is probably a deeper tinge of blue than Anne Arundel County,” said Democratic state Sen. Clarence Lam of Howard County, whose district substantially overlaps with that of Sarbanes. “That’s why she (Morgan) was able to make inroads, I think, a little more deeply into Anne Arundel County than Howard County.”
Lam said in an interview that he is considering entering the race.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball also said Friday that he is giving “serious consideration” to running.
Ball, a Democrat, was elected county executive in 2018 and reelected in 2022.
“As I talk with members of our community, I am giving the race serious consideration, and I expect to make a decision by Thanksgiving,” Ball wrote in a statement on social media.
Another potential candidate, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, told The Baltimore Sun in an email that he is focused on his current duties.
“I’m grateful for the encouragement and support I’ve received to consider this race,” Pittman said. “I want to make it clear, in no uncertain terms, that I have a job to finish serving Anne Arundel County as its county executive.”
Sarbanes, 61, said he will serve the remainder of his ninth term, which runs into early January 2025.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Sarbanes’ announcement was a surprise. He said in a news release Thursday that he was interested in other forms of public service — for example, working with nonprofits — and “found myself drawn back to that kind of work.”
Sarbanes is the son of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, who died in 2020.
The younger Sarbanes has focused heavily on trying to strengthen ethics rules and reform elections and the campaign finance system. Many of his proposals, supported by Democratic leaders, have been blocked by congressional Republicans.
Congressional vacancies often attract sizable numbers of candidates who are attracted by not having to run against well-known, well-funded incumbents.
“Most of the time it is easier to run for an open seat,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Glenn Ivey of Prince George’s County, who won the 4th District seat in 2022 left vacant when Democratic incumbent Anthony Brown did not seek reelection. Brown ran instead for state attorney general and won.
“There is definitely a power to incumbency,” Ivey said. “The voters might look at that race, and say, ‘I don’t see a reason to fire that guy.’”
The filing date for the seat is Feb. 9, and the primary is May 14.