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Some Democrats Favor an Earlier Primary

By Matthew Mosk
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page C04

Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation have launched a late lobbying campaign to move up the state's primary election from September to June.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he has heard from U.S. Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Benjamin L. Cardin about the timing of the primary; both argued that certain Democratic candidates could benefit from an earlier date.

One of those benefiting might be Cardin, if he decides to run for the U.S. Senate in 2006, as has widely been rumored. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) is retiring.

Because Democrats are likely to see tough primary battles in both the race for governor and for U.S. Senate in 2006, an earlier primary would reduce the time the Democrats spend targeting each other and give them more time to regroup for the general election campaign.

Democrats said they have learned from the experience of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen how tough it can be to emerge from a heavily contested primary in September, with just two months until the general election. Van Hollen drained his campaign accounts to defeat former delegate Mark K. Shriver in the 8th District race and had to scramble to finance his general election victory over Rep. Constance A. Morella (R).

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) appeared to embrace the idea in an interview with the Gazette published Friday. Although only one week remains in the General Assembly's 90-day session, Miller said the concept could be inserted as an amendment in any number of pending election-related bills.

Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman spoke favorably of the idea in an interview. "Any primary winner should have adequate time to campaign," he said

Busch, however, is one of several key figures in the legislature who has strong reservations about such a maneuver, especially given how little time there is to consider unintended consequences. For starters, holding the primary sooner would leave little time for state lawmakers to prepare for their own races, because the 2006 session would conclude just two months before Election Day. Lawmakers are forbidden to raise money during the session.

"Before you make any decision as significant as that, you want to see it fully vetted," Busch said. "I'm not sure there's time to do that this late in the game."

Filibuster Necessary -- or Not

What a difference an election makes.

Just ask Maryland Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil), who was touting the virtues of the filibuster during an interview on the Senate floor Friday. A number of Republicans are among those plotting a filibuster to try to derail legislation that would dedicate state money for stem cell research conducted in Maryland.

Pipkin said the vote on the stem cell bill will not fall neatly along party lines, but he expects that every Republican will stand behind the filibuster.

The ability to gain control of the Senate floor is a critical tool for the minority party to express itself, Pipkin said. He might not have shared that view if he had won his bid against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) last year to become Maryland's U.S. senator. Senate Republicans are considering eliminating the minority party's ability to block judicial nominees with -- you guessed it -- the filibuster.

GOP Leader Keeps Low Profile

While the Maryland General Assembly has drafted more than 2,626 bills this year, not one of those bills in circulation comes from the desk of Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus.

The Eastern Shore Republican said he's adopted an unorthodox strategy for legislating that owes to the tense partisan climate in Annapolis these days. By putting in none of his own legislation, he will not find himself in the position of seeing one of his bills held hostage by Democrats or watching his partisan opponents defeat something he drafted merely for spite.

"You're not as vulnerable," Stoltzfus said.

Stoltzfus said it's an approach that reflects "the reality" of partisan tensions in Annapolis. And perhaps he's onto something -- just imagine how smoothly the session would go if every lawmaker adopted that strategy.

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