By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 12:39 AM
Despite electoral conditions as favorable to their party as any in recent memory, Maryland Republicans failed to break the Democrats' solid hold on the state's General Assembly in Tuesday's elections.
Even as the party was picking up congressional seats across the country, the GOP was unable to win the five seats in the 47-member state Senate it would need to filibuster legislation advanced by the Democratic majority - long a stated party objective.
And in the 141-member House of Delegates, only a handful of seats appeared likely to change party hands. Heading into the election, Democrats held a 104 to 37 edge over Republicans in the chamber.
Republicans in Maryland have long been hampered by weak organization and limited resources. This year, they also watched the coattails of their gubernatorial nominee, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., shrink in recent weeks, as polls showed Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) extending his lead.
By Monday night, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) was boasting that Democrats might pick up seats in the solidly blue Senate, despite the nation's rightward push.
With much of the state's vote counted late Tuesday, it appeared the balance of power in the chamber was likely to be virtually unchanged. Democrats won or were ahead in all of the districts already held by the party, and two seats that had been held by Republicans were too close to call, with some votes left to be counted.
Even if taking the majority of either chamber remained a fantasy, getting enough Senate seats to mount a filibuster would have given the GOP the power to make its voice heard during legislative debate. But to reach the mark, the party would have needed to expand its membership in the body from 14 to 19 seats.
By Tuesday, the GOP was most seriously contesting three sitting Democratic senators.
Small-business owner Kevin Carney mounted a challenge to two-term Democratic Sen. James Brochin in Baltimore County, where Ehrlich was expected to perform well, but Brochin held a lead among the first votes counted.
In Anne Arundel County, four-term Sen. John C. Astle (D), a retired Marine, held an early lead against Republican Ron Elfenbein, a doctor and businessman who received support from the conservative political action group Americans for Prosperity.
Three-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Roy P. Dyson, a former member of Congress, defeated Republican Stephen M. Waugh after a close race in Southern Maryland.
But to gain ground, Republicans also needed to hang on to two of their seats where Democrats ran strong campaigns.
In Frederick, Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R), who favors restrictions on the use of the death penalty and has been a key swing vote on the issue as O'Malley has worked to repeal the punishment, held a small lead over former Frederick Mayor Ron Young, with some votes left to count.
And on the Eastern Shore, Del. James N. Mathias (D) and Ocean City hotel owner Michael James were locked in a close race to replace retiring Republican Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, who held the seat for almost two decades. James unsuccessfully challenged Mathias for his House of Delegates seat in 2006.
Republicans appeared to gain at least four seats in the House, with ballots still left to be counted. But even so, they were certain to be vastly outnumbered by Democrats. The GOP held no delegate seats in Montgomery and Prince George's counties and did not field candidates in a number of districts there.
Regardless of Tuesday's election, both chambers will be filled with new faces when legislators convene for their annual session in January. Nearly one in five delegates and senators is assured to be a newcomer in the wake of retirements and primary elections that resulted in the defeat of incumbents.
They will include two new senators in Prince George's - Del. Joanne C. Benson and Del. Victor R. Ramirez - who ousted incumbent Democrats in September's primary election and faced no Republican opposition Tuesday.
Newcomers will also probably include two new senators in Montgomery: Del. Karen S. Montgomery and Del. Roger Manno, who likewise defeated sitting Democratic senators in September and were expected to prevail over conservative Republicans challenging them for control of heavily Democratic districts.