By Robert Barnes and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Maryland voters on Tuesday endorsed a generational change of political leaders, setting up the most competitive statewide campaigns in decades and defining a new role for the Washington suburbs in the state's politics.
Maryland Democrats for the first time nominated two Montgomery County politicians for statewide office -- State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler for attorney general and Del. Peter Franchot for comptroller. No one from Montgomery has been elected on his own to statewide office since 1919.
On a day when 84-year-old Comptroller William Donald Schaefer acknowledged his exit from the public stage, the Democrats' new team assembled in Baltimore. Franchot and Gansler held a "unity" rally with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, the party's nominee for governor; O'Malley's running mate, Del. Anthony G. Brown of Prince George's; and U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County, who won the U.S. Senate nomination over former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume.
They immediately went to work characterizing their ticket as aligned with working families and trying to associate their opponents with an unpopular president not on the ballot.
"This campaign is about holding George Bush accountable," Cardin said, listing issues on which he and the president differ, including the Iraq war and stem cell research.
O'Malley added, "There are few governors in this country who are more in lock step with President Bush than Bob Ehrlich." He said they both have a "not-on-the-side-of-
While Democrats stressed the geographic diversity of the ticket, drawn from the state's four most populous jurisdictions, the Republican ticket is more of a rainbow -- varied by race, gender and geography. African American Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele officially picked up the Senate nomination; Anne M. McCarthy of Baltimore won a four-way race for the comptroller nomination; and the nominee for attorney general, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, represents that fast-growing part of the state. The ticket is headed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his new running mate, Kristin Cox, who is secretary of the state Department of Disabilities and is legally blind.
Ehrlich had no campaign events yesterday, but in a letter sent to supporters on primary day, the governor sought to frame his race as one about his and O'Malley's respective records.
"Under NO circumstances can we allow O'Malley to gain a promotion to Governor based on his record of failure," Ehrlich wrote. "That would be like putting the Captain of the Titanic in charge of the entire Navy!"
Preliminary estimates show that less than a third of Democratic voters and less than a quarter of registered Republicans came out Tuesday.
The voting problems that plagued the state Tuesday led to recriminations and calls for investigations. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) wrote to Ehrlich asking that the county's top two election officials be fired and that an investigation be launched.
Election officials said they issued 10,000 to 12,000 provisional ballots because voting machines weren't operational Tuesday morning, and those votes will be counted next Monday. The delay could affect several races, including the one between Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D) and challenger Donna Edwards in a district that includes parts of Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Wynn was holding a lead, and Edwards said she wants all the votes counted.
The number of ballots isn't great enough to affect the outcome of the Democratic primary for Montgomery county executive. The winner, Isiah "Ike" Leggett, is preparing for a general election contest against Republican Chuck Floyd and independent Robin Ficker, which could make him the county's first African American executive.
Voting problems delayed returns in Prince George's, and it was not until yesterday afternoon that challenger Rushern L. Baker III acknowledged that County Executive Jack B. Johnson had essentially secured a second term by winning the Democratic primary.
Schaefer, a former governor and Baltimore mayor, gave a valedictory of sorts in Annapolis after unofficial returns showed that he finished a distant third in a three-way race that appears to have ended a half-century-long public career. Schaefer seemed to cost himself reelection with a series of intemperate and, at times, insulting remarks about women, immigrants and his opponents; at a news conference yesterday, he was gracious to Franchot and gratuitous about others, such as reporters who made him want to "puke."
"I might be sorry I said some things, but I'm not going to apologize," Schaefer said.
The exit of Schaefer -- along with retiring 75-year-old state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran and 73-year-old U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) -- marks the end of an era in Maryland politics.
"As we come up here, one after another, it should be clear to everyone that we have new messengers," Gansler told the unity luncheon.
Cardin, at 62, is a 40-year veteran of Maryland politics -- he was elected to the House of Delegates while still in law school -- but Steele is 47. There are fresh faces elsewhere. Gansler and his opponent, Rolle, are both in their forties. Franchot is 58, but his opponent, McCarthy, was born sometime around Schaefer's second term on the Baltimore City Council.
The average age of the O'Malley-Brown ticket is 43.5; Ehrlich-Cox, 42.
If elected, Gansler or Franchot would become the first person elected statewide from Montgomery not named Lee, according to the historians at the Maryland Archives. E. Brooke Lee (D) was elected comptroller in 1919; his son Blair Lee III (D) was Marvin Mandel's running mate in 1970 and served for two years as acting governor.
Some praised the nomination of Franchot and Gansler as a turning point. Sidney Kramer, a former Montgomery county executive and former state senator, said the nomination of candidates from Montgomery was "a long time coming."
Some of it was attributable to demographics, he said. "But it also meant these candidate had support from the Baltimore corridor. . . . It says very clearly for the first time that the people in the Baltimore area are willing to accept leadership from this region."
Not everyone agreed. "I think they won not based on where they sleep at night but on the strength of their campaigns and the weakness of their opponents," said Timothy F. Maloney, a former state delegate who practices law in Prince George's County.
No Democrat won statewide Tuesday without winning Montgomery.
In the Senate race, Prince George's will be receiving renewed attention. Steele is from Largo, and he is reaching out aggressively to the county's African American Democrats, who overwhelmingly supported Mfume on Tuesday.
Tuesday night, he attended the parties of both Democratic candidates for Prince George's county executive, and he looks for support among those disappointed with Cardin's victory and with a Democratic ticket dominated by white men. Brown, O'Malley's running mate, is the only African American on the Democrats' statewide ticket.
State Sen. Verna L. Jones (D-Baltimore), chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said the party's rejection of Mfume and attorney general candidate Stuart O. Simms could make it more difficult to build enthusiasm.
In his final appearance on election night -- which actually came about 1:30 a.m. yesterday -- Mfume stressed to supporters that he and Cardin are friends, despite "a lot of people who tried to drive a wedge between us." And Mfume said Cardin would be "a damn good senator."
Staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this report.