According to interviews and drafts of two leading proposals obtained by The Washington Post, O’Malley and a cadre of the state’s top Democratic lawmakers are engaged in a secretive, final round of negotiations over whether to go further than expected and try to unseat not one but potentially both of Maryland’s Republican congressmen.
At a minimum, the maps make clear that O’Malley will seek to oust Western Maryland’s 10-term Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R) by moving a swath of liberal Montgomery County voters into the traditionally conservative 6th Congressional District.
But O’Malley and lawmakers are also considering a more radical option, according to the maps and a Maryland Democratic Party official with knowledge of the talks.
That plan would give former representative Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D) a leg up in a rematch with one of the GOP’s most conservative freshmen lawmakers, 1st Congressional District Rep. Andy Harris. It would do so by lumping thousands of reliably Democratic voters, including some African Americans in Prince George’s County, with rural Republicans on the Eastern Shore.
Neither plan would produce a “slam dunk” victory for a Democratic challenger in either district, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to freely describe private discussions and Democratic party calculations.
Either option, however, would expose O’Malley and Maryland Democrats to charges of gerrymandering.
If either plan is enacted and successful, Republicans could account for just one in eight — or even none — of the state’s congressional delegation after 2012. That would be incongruous with the state’s political makeup. More than a quarter of voters in the state are registered Republicans and at least four in 10 consistently vote for a Republican for governor.
“Maryland Democrats are planning to blatantly divide a politically cohesive part of the state; it’s no different than what Republicans are doing in Texas,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. Wasserman compared the splitting of Republicans in Western Maryland with redistricting in Texas, where critics say Republicans have sought to undermine the voting power of Hispanics.
“The fact is, redistricting is an arms race and Maryland is one of the few weapons Democrats have,” Wasserman said. Nationwide, Republicans control redistricting in 202 congressional districts to 47 for Democrats; the rest are governed by independent or bipartisan groups, according to an analysis by Cook. But redistricting in the states has so far produced a wash for the two parties.
Given that, any new battlegrounds in Maryland could figure more prominently in the national calculus over control of the House. Spokesmen for O’Malley and other members of the redistricting commission declined to comment on the two maps. O’Malley is expected to call a special session for the General Assembly to vote on a new map on Oct. 17.