In Md., younger generation takes aim at older incumbents

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 14, 2010

In Montgomery County, a veteran of the Maryland Senate is locked in the fight of her political career, against another Democrat young enough to be her daughter. In Western Maryland, a seemingly entrenched Republican senator is struggling to fend off a primary challenger 35 years his junior.

And in Baltimore County, a young community activist is taking aim at the longest-serving member of the state Senate. The incumbent is 74. The challenger, a fellow Democrat, is 25.

It is all part of a season of generational challenges taking shape in Maryland legislative primaries.

In nearly a dozen races, younger candidates have launched campaigns or are seriously contemplating challenges to more senior members of their party -- bucking what had been a long tradition in Maryland politics of waiting your turn.

Several of the Democratic hopefuls -- including some sitting delegates, who might give up their seats to run for Senate -- have pointed to President Obama as inspiration for running for a higher office without a lengthy résumé.

The Republican challengers are more apt to cite the national political climate, in which no incumbent seems safe. Among those who could be vulnerable, they suggest, are Republicans who have spent a long time in Annapolis cutting deals with the Democratic majority.

"There's no constitutional requirement that you have gray hair," said Del. Saqib Ali (D-Montgomery), who was elected to the House of Delegates in 2006.

Four years later, Ali, 35, is positioning himself for a possible primary challenge against Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery). King, 60, has publicly advised the ambitious Ali to stand down, saying in an interview: "I think it would be best for him to accomplish something in the House and have a record to run on."

Montgomery already has one marquee Senate matchup: Cheryl C. Kagan, a former state delegate, has been campaigning for more than a year for the seat held by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), a 32-year veteran of the legislature.

The first word Kagan uses to describe herself in campaign literature is "energetic." That was hard to dispute one night as Kagan, 48, darted among townhouses in the district, trying to convince targeted Democratic voters that she would bring a more independent voice to the Senate than Forehand, 74.

Kagan's campaign was bolstered by the release of finance reports last month showing that she had $96,000 in the bank, about $8,500 more than Forehand.

Forehand, who enjoys the backing of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), is trying to sell her longevity as an asset, saying she has "built up a lot of trust with a lot of people."

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