The 50 States

Md., Va. Challengers' Fate May Depend on Inner Suburbs' Muscle

While acknowledging that the changing political climate in Northern Virginia has made it
While acknowledging that the changing political climate in Northern Virginia has made it "tougher than it used to be," a consultant for Sen. George Allen (R) said Allen has not given up on the area. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)

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By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Big, rich, filled with voters and slightly off-center, the Washington suburbs will either drive the election results in Virginia and Maryland on Tuesday or show once again that they are out of step with the rest of their states.

Maybe both.

This election marks the full emergence of Northern Virginia and the Maryland suburbs that border Washington as power centers in their states. In the case of Northern Virginia, dramatic growth and changing political attitudes that set it more in tune with the rest of the country than the rest of Virginia are vital to Democrat James Webb's challenge of Republican Sen. George Allen.

"The divide between Northern Virginia and the rest of the state continues to grow wider -- it's as if they are two different states," said George Mason University political scientist Mark J. Rozell. "If Jim Webb is to win, I really think the story the next day is how Northern Virginia put him over the top."

Likewise, Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- the largest jurisdictions in the state, accounting for about 30 percent of the total vote -- are the cornerstones for Democratic campaigns. But that doesn't mean the rest of the state always follows.

The counties stood out four years ago as the only jurisdictions besides Baltimore to back Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won because of his margins elsewhere in the state. If this year's Democratic standard-bearers -- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley for governor and Baltimore County Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin in the U.S. Senate race -- don't supplement their expected margins in the D.C. suburbs with more help from their own region, the pattern could repeat.

But this year, the Maryland suburbs are set to go from simply providing Democratic votes to supplying Democratic policymakers: If the party's ticket wins, it will be the first time three of the state's four elected constitutional officeholders will be from the Washington area.

"Both Doug Gansler's and my election will be a wake-up call to everybody in the state that the Washington suburbs are indispensable to anyone running for statewide office," said Montgomery Del. Peter Franchot, the Democratic nominee for comptroller. Montgomery State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler is the nominee for attorney general, and both are in line to become the first from the county to be independently elected to statewide office since 1919.

In addition, O'Malley selected Prince George's Del. Anthony G. Brown to be his lieutenant governor running mate. Republican Senate nominee Michael S. Steele lives in Prince George's and grew up in the District.

Two more Baltimore-Washington showdowns were averted when Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan dropped out of the primary against O'Malley and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery decided not to challenge Cardin for the Senate nomination.

Gansler and Franchot both beat opponents with bases in Baltimore.

"I think it signals, along with Parris N. Glendening's election as governor 12 years ago, that there is a shifting of population and power away from Baltimore and towards the Washington, D.C., suburbs," said Paul Herrnson, a politics professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. Glendening was Prince George's county executive before his two terms as governor.


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