Maryland Elections: GOP in danger, a gamble on gambling

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., right, shakes hands with Terry Allen in Frederick, Md. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez, File)

WASHINGTON — In Maryland, voters are faced with a range of ballot questions as well as making their pick for president. Residents also will decide congressional races that pit lesser-known candidates against established incumbents.

WTOP turned to Joshua Kurtz, a columnist with Center Maryland, to handicap the races and delve into what’s on Maryland voters’ minds as they head to the polls.

On the Senate side, Democrat Ben Cardin is seeking a second term. Two of his challengers are Republican candidate Daniel Bongino, a former Secret Service agent, and independent candidate Rob Sobhani. Libertarian candidate Dean Ahmad also is on the ballot.

While Bongino was working to build name recognition and a base of support, Sobhani managed to make a name for himself by launching an aggressive ad campaign, Kurtz says.

“He’s spending a lot of money and he’s got some slick ads, and he’s not just targeting Republicans,” Kurtz says of Sobhani.

Still, despite some weaknesses in Cardin’s political profile, Kurtz says Cardin is likely to win the race by as much as 25 points.

Cardin’s polling is in the low- to mid-50s — more than enough to win re-election, Kurtz says.

“He’s been an elected official for 46 years. He’s extremely well-known among insiders,” Kurtz says, adding that Cardin is considered hardworking and effective.

Despite that service, Kurtz says Cardin is not as well-known by the average voter and lacks the “rock star status” of Maryland’s senior senator, Barbara Mikulski, also a Democrat.

“It’s not bad to be a workhorse,” Kurtz says.”Unfortunately in this day and age, you’re often measured by your political sexiness and your ability to make headlines.”

Close shave in 6th Congressional District

In the recently redrawn 6th District – which includes Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties, as well as parts of Frederick and Montgomery – Kurtz says the House race is very tight.

Incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett, who’s held the seat since 1993, faces Democrat John Delaney, a financier from Potomac making his first run for public office. Libertarian Nickolaus Mueller also is on the ballot.

Kurtz gives Delaney the edge.

“Polls have it pretty close. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any Democrat in the state who thinks Bartlett’s going to win, and probably privately, most Republicans don’t think he’s going to win either.”

Kurtz says it’s telling that “the political arm of the House Republicans hasn’t given Bartlett a dime.” Yet it has given other vulnerable caucus members money.

“I think they see (Bartlett’s campaign) as a lost cause,” Kurtz says.

Kurtz says redistricting has put the pressure on Bartlett. The new district map adds parts of Montgomery County — a solidly blue spot on Maryland’s political map.

“I mean, the Democrats did a great job of making that a favorable district for Democrats,” he says.

Bartlett’s age — he was born in Kentucky in 1926 — is also a factor in the race, Kurtz says.

“Let’s face it, Bartlett is old,” Kurtz says. “He hasn’t had a competitive general election race in 20 years. If he was 40 and a political hotshot, it might be a little easier to fend off the attacks from Delaney.”

Instead, Bartlett is out of practice when it comes to fighting a tough race, Kurtz says.

A big gamble

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has put his name on the line to bring a glitzy new casino — and the revenues it could bring — to the county at National Harbor.

Kurtz says Baker, a Democrat, has used up a lot of political capital just to put expanded gaming on the ballot.

“If it gets rejected, he’s going to have some political hell to pay, and he’s going to have to go to a Plan B,” he says.

Baker will have to find other sources to fund the things he wants to pay for with gambling revenues if the expansion fails, Kurtz says.

Issues at stake

Kurtz says Marylanders care about the same things as most Americans: the economy, their jobs and their quality of life. And those broader concerns may dilute voting on statewide and local ballot initiatives.

Once they step inside the voting booth, Kurtz suspects many voters may not work all the way down the ballot.

“Insiders may be plugged in and excited” by the ballot questions. But Kurtz expects that many voters will simply make their pick for president and other races at the top of the ballot, and then head home.

For information on races for local office, as well as local ballot questions, follow these links:

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WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate Ryan and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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