Montgomery Democrats Gansler, Franchot Win

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By Steve Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Democrats Douglas F. Gansler and Peter Franchot easily captured their respective races for Maryland attorney general and comptroller last night, giving Montgomery County its first two candidates elected to statewide office in nearly 90 years.

Franchot, a Montgomery County delegate who defeated Republican nominee Anne McCarthy, will succeed a Maryland political legend, incumbent William Donald Schaefer, the former governor and Baltimore mayor who was ousted in the Democratic primary in September.

Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, beat his Republican opponent, Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle, and will likewise take the place of a fixture of Maryland politics, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D), who is retiring after 20 years in office.

With nearly three-quarters of precincts reported, Gansler was winning with 58 percent of the vote, and Franchot had 57 percent in his race.

The election of two candidates from Montgomery County is "a seismic shift in Maryland, from being a Baltimore-centric state to a more balanced state," Gansler said last night.

"The Washington area is asserting itself with force by putting Gansler and me in these important positions," a confident Franchot said before the polls closed.

Franchot claimed his win last night before a crowd of about 175 supporters at a hotel in Silver Spring. "It's time to put down the swords, put partisanship aside, roll up our sleeves and start governing," Franchot said after his speech.

Earlier in the evening, Gansler thanked supporters at a gathering at a Bethesda restaurant. He and Franchot later appeared with Martin O'Malley in Baltimore as the Democrat claimed victory in the governor's race.

Despite being the state's most populous jurisdiction, Montgomery County has not traditionally thrown around much weight in Maryland politics. "We are a county focused on Washington, not Annapolis," noted Blair Lee IV, a Democratic commentator and member of a prominent Montgomery County family.

Lee's grandfather, E. Brooke Lee, won election as comptroller in 1919, the last time a county resident running in an independent race was elected statewide. Lee's father, Blair Lee III, was elected lieutenant governor in 1970 and 1974, but on a ticket with Marvin Mandel.

Both the attorney general and the comptroller wield considerable power in Maryland. The comptroller oversees the collection of taxes and serves on the three-member Board of Public Works, which controls state contracts. The attorney general acts as the state's chief legal officer, representing Maryland in federal court and serving as legal adviser for state government.

Gansler and Franchot have emphasized plans for assertive use of their powers on environmental issues and to protect access to health care and affordable health programs. Gansler also said he would target street gangs and consumer fraud. Franchot said he would support new school construction and programs to improve teachers' pay and avoid tuition hikes at state institutions.

Following Curran's announcement in May that he would not seek reelection, the attorney general's race took several odd legal detours.

In August, Montgomery Council member Tom Perez, who represents Silver Spring, was knocked out of the Democratic primary by Maryland's Court of Appeals, which ruled that he did not meet a state requirement that the attorney general must have practiced law in Maryland for at least 10 years.

Last month, a similar legal challenge against Gansler was dismissed by a circuit court judge.

The biggest battle in the comptroller's race took place during the Democratic primary in September, when Franchot edged Schaefer and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

McCarthy, a former dean at the University of Baltimore, was making her first run for elective office.

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