It amounts to three months, basically a summer vacation.
But some Maryland Democratic leaders are pushing to move next year's primary election from September to June, a change they believe could help them win back the governor's mansion and hold on to a key U.S. Senate seat.
Other Democrats, though, say a summer primary could tamp down voter turnout and leave the party open to charges of political opportunism.
Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Terry Lierman has held meetings with party members in recent weeks to gauge interest in the change, which would require approval from the General Assembly. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said this week that he wants to hold public hearings on the politically sensitive issue this fall, well in advance of lawmakers' return in January.
The move would almost certainly draw a veto from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), requiring three-fifths majorities in both Democrat-led chambers to override him. "There's a lot of interest in it," Lierman said. "The whole idea of a level playing field is important to our nominees and their nominees."
The interest is being fueled by two marquee races next year -- for governor and U.S. Senate -- in which Democrats have multiple candidates while the Republican nominees are likely to face no opposition within their party.
With a September primary, Democrats who prevail would have just two months to replenish their campaign coffers and rally support for November contests against Ehrlich, who is seeking reelection, and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the likely GOP Senate nominee.
"It takes awhile to salve the wounds and get everybody pointed back in the same direction," said Joe Trippi, a Democratic operative advising Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume. "After the primary, my guess is the Democrats are all going to be plumb broke."
Among those championing the change are House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D), the dean of the state's congressional delegation, and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). The Senate approved an earlier primary date in the waning days of this year's legislative session, and Miller said he is confident it would do so again because "the benefits are just so apparent. It offers a long enough period for ideas to develop and for candidates to be competitive."
House members balked at a last-minute move in April, however, and Busch said he continues to sense resistance, including some from Democrats. Busch said talk of changing the primary date needs a full public airing.
"Whatever we do should not be predicated on helping one party," Busch said. "And you can't just have a group of guys sitting around in a room determining what the appropriate primary date is."
While contested primaries in September can drain resources, they can also provide momentum for some candidates heading into the general election.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) seemed to benefit in 2002, for example, when he defeated state Del. Mark Shriver in an expensive, hard-fought primary, then immediately headed into a two-month campaign against Republican incumbent Connie Morella.
House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) said none of the 43 GOP House members are likely to support the change. "We view it as a political party trying to hold onto power," O'Donnell said of the Democrats. "In the middle of June, people are on vacation and are not focused on elections."
He said turnout in Virginia's gubernatorial primary last month -- less than 7 percent of registered voters -- offered a powerful argument not to move Maryland's date.
Democrats say June turnout in Maryland would certainly be much higher next year, given keen interest in the races. But some acknowledge it might not match that of September primaries, which have drawn from 28.6 percent to 39.6 percent during the past four cycles in Maryland.
"My view is we ought to keep the primary where it is and encourage the greatest turnout possible," said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), adding that a June primary might confuse people. Maryland's primary system is already confusing enough, some argue, given congressional primaries are held in March in presidential years and September in gubernatorial years.
With no Republican support, overriding Ehrlich's veto would require the votes of 85 of the House's 98 Democrats -- a level of support Busch said he does not yet see.
Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said the governor sees no reason to move a gubernatorial primary that has been held in September since 1966.
"This is the latest in a long list of rule changes the legislature is trying to force on Maryland elections," Fawell said. "The unavoidable fact is there's nothing wrong with the primary system as it is."