The sprint to the finish

Standing as we are eight weeks out from the primary, if you were to consider the primary campaign calendar analogous to the general election calendar, we are at Labor Day. In the fall campaign, Labor Day is considered the point where people begin to pay attention to the election and start to make their final decision.

Because this is a Presidential election year, Republicans and Democrats in most of Maryland will only have a few choices to make when primary voting arrives in late March. (Some will also have local races to consider.) In seven out of eight districts for both parties voters will have a choice for Congress, while all Maryland voters who participate in the primary will select their party’s standardbearer for the U.S. Senate seat. Only Republicans will have a choice for President as no one stepped forth to challenge Barack Obama on the primary ballot. There is also only one Republican running in the First Congressional District – incumbent Andy Harris – while Dutch Ruppersberger enjoys a similar free ride in his Second District Democratic primary. Convention delegates are also at stake for both parties in each Congressional district.

Now that the stage is set, it’s very likely that only two or three GOP presidential candidates will be left standing by the time the race reaches Maryland on April 3. The good news is that Maryland and the District of Columbia may be pretty much the only game in town that day. Wisconsin voters will be much more mindful of the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker and, depending on whether the Texas legislative districts go to court or not, their scheduled April 3 primary is likely to be pushed back.

But the Presidential sweepstakes will likely not be the most exciting race. Rather, the key races will be:

  • The Second District Republican primary, where Delegate Rick Impallaria and State Senator Nancy Jacobs are leading the field of five contestants. Political newcomer Larry Smith is also running a spirited campaign.
  • Both sides in the Sixth District. While Democratic State Senator Rob “Gas Tax” Garagiola had the district drawn to his advantage, challenger Milad Pooran has shown some fundraising prowess as well. Meanwhile, State Senator David Brinkley and Delegate Kathy Afzali are challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, joining 2010 challenger Joseph Krysztoforski and four other GOP hopefuls in the Congressional side’s most crowded field.
  • It looked like Democratic incumbent U.S. Senator Ben Cardin would face the usual cadre of perennial candidates until State Senator C. Anthony Muse jumped into the race. While Cardin is expected to handle this challenge, it will show just how many Democrats – particularly the black population they depend so heavily on – are backing the incumbent. If Cardin doesn’t carry areas like Prince George’s County or Baltimore City Cardin will have some fence-mending to do over the summer months to shore up the base.
  • Meanwhile, the Republicans have their usual crowded field of ten candidates, who I’ll discuss in the next few paragraphs.

If you break down that race you’ll find that, just like the Democrats, there are several who are seemingly on the ballot just to see their name there. John Kimble is on his ninth straight federal ballot dating back to 1996, Corrogan Vaughn is on his fourth try for statewide office, Robert Broadus and Rick Hoover are on their third electoral run, and Joseph Alexander was third in the 2010 Senate race. William Capps also ran for state office in 2010. That’s not to say they have no shot at winning, but generally there’s a reason for their lack of previous success. Of that group, Vaughn and Broadus have probably been the most active at getting around the state and promoting their campaigns.

But in terms of money and backing, the two frontrunners have to be pegged as Rich Douglas and Dan Bongino. Bongino has raised the most money, and both have received a series of dueling endorsements from state and federal officeholders and other well-known figures. Both Bongino and Douglas have spoken before small groups (of which I was a part) here in Wicomico County as well.

I’ve pointed out before that the pair have a somewhat different focus in their respective campaigns.

Douglas seems to be more of the “establishment” candidate whose specialty lies more in the aspect of foreign affairs. He also plays up his experience in the Senate as a staffer for Senator Jesse Helms and his military experience. Conversely, Bongino resides more on the side of addressing economic issues and the role of government and doesn’t seem to be averse to mixing it up with his Democratic opponent. He’s also been more successful at getting national interest in his campaign. To me, it doesn’t matter so much who wins the Republican side – I’m looking for the guy who will finally represent this state as it should be represented, not a career politician building up his pension via 46 years in public office. (Yes, Ben Cardin was first elected to public office in 1966 – winning a House of Delegates seat held previously by his uncle. He was first elected when I was 2 years old!)

Although there could be a primary upset, I’d prefer that the retirement party for Ben Cardin be held on November 6. While most of the ten on the GOP side would be an improvement (I have my doubts on a couple) I would suspect the best chance of attaining that goal would rest with Rich Douglas or Dan Bongino.