GOP hopes dim for Assembly gains

The national wave for Republicans turned into a mere ripple by the time it reached the races for the Maryland General Assembly on Tuesday, as most Democrats perceived as vulnerable defeated their challengers.

Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch, openly targeted for defeat by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., won re-election in his three-member Annapolis district. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., whom Ehrlich had said Republicans would "medicate" in order to get along with him better, coasted to re-election in Prince George's and Calvert counties.

Returns indicated that Republicans were struggling to break even in the state Senate. In Frederick County, conservative Sen. Alex Mooney was trailing Democratic challenger Ronald Young by more than 600 votes.

Republicans' last hopes of a pickup of a Democratic Senate seat may have been dashed last night as Sen. Roy Dyson apparently held off a stiff challenge from the GOP's Stephen M. Waugh in Southern Maryland and Annapolis Democrat John Astle hung on to a lead of almost 800 votes over Republican Ron Elfenbein.

If all the current leaders win and if Democrat Jim Mathias maintains his narrow lead over Michael James in the open district vacated by retiring Republican Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Democrats would end up with a net gain of two seats.

The General Assembly has long been a disappointment for Maryland's outnumbered Republicans. Not since 1994 has the party made appreciable gains in either the Senate or the House, and even then they didn't come close to threatening Democratic dominance.

With control of either chamber far out of reach, the legislative goal for the GOP had been to reach the magic number of Senate seats — 19 out of 47 — where they could sustain a filibuster without attracting a single Democratic ally. As it stands, with a 33-14 Democratic advantage, Miller invariably twists enough Democratic arms to invoke cloture.

This year, the GOP was hoping a national tide could bring them the handful of seats they needed to reach that goal.

"If we had five additional seats in the state Senate, we would move from being a party and a caucus the Dems can just ignore . . . to where we have some clout," GOP state political director Ryan Mahoney said.

But the Republicans couldn't come close in a state that Maryland Democratic Party Isaac Salazar spokesman called "cobalt blue."

House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, who coasted in Montgomery County, said Democrats in the state's legislature seemed to be doing well. "I haven't heard any negative reports from anywhere," he said late Tuesday night. "By now, I had expected to."

In the House, Mahoney had said the Republicans were hoping to take away seven to 15 Democratic seats. By the end of the evening, they appeared on a course to gain about a half-dozen seats — most of them vacancies left by Democrats who did not seek re-election.

Republican prospects have been limited by the barrier Democrats have erected around Baltimore City and Montgomery, Prince George's and Charles counties. Not since 1994 has a Republican been elected to the legislature from a Prince George's district; the last remaining Montgomery County GOP delegate was defeated in 2006. Its last Republican senator went down to defeat in 2002. The Democrats swept the legislative races in Charles in 2006.

Despite Republican hopes for a breakthrough, there were no cracks in the solid blue wall the Democrats have erected in those jurisdictions and in the eastern part of Howard County.

Mahoney had expressed hope that incumbent Montgomery County Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, could be vulnerable to a challenge from Republican Jerry Cave. But Frosh was on track last night to score 70 percent or more, as he typically has since coming to the Senate.

Going into Election Day, the parties agreed that the most embattled Senate Democrats included Anne Arundel County's John Astle and Baltimore County's James Brochin. Republicans also had hopes of toppling Dyson and Edward J. Kasemeyer, who represents a district straddling Baltimore and Howard counties.

Last night, Dyson and Astle were apparent winners in close races, while Brochin and Kasemeyer won comfortably.

Some first-time senators coasted into office with no general election opposition on the ballot. In Baltimore, Bill Ferguson took the seat he wrested from longtime Sen. George W. Della Jr. in the Democratic primary. In Prince George's, Democratic Dels. Joanne Benson and Victor Ramirez faced no opposition after unseating incumbents. In Washington County, Del. Christopher Shank turned back a write-in challenge from the incumbent he knocked off in the Republican primary, Donald Munson.

In the House, key battles were expected to be fought in Baltimore County, where there were hopes of a strong Ehrlich tide, and in northern Anne Arundel County, where the controversy over slots at Arundel Mills cast a shadow on the re-election bids of three incumbent Democratic delegates. Last night it appeared the GOP was on track to take one or two seats in Baltimore County and one in Anne Arundel.

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