A parting on the left

It looks like the rumors may be true, the exploring is over, and Republicans can rejoice in the fact there will be a potentially divisive primary fight for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Ben Cardin. (h/t: Maryland Juice.)

State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County will emerge as the first serious challenger to Cardin from the left. While there are several others who also share the Democratic line, the reality is that most are perennial fringe candidates (take Lih Young as a nearly incomprehensible¬†great example) who would be fortunate to pick up 10 percent between the lot of them. As proof of their perennial nature, four of the other Democrats vying for Senate were on the ballot just two years ago: J.P. Cusick and Ralph Jaffe picked up the 13% of the vote Martin O’Malley didn’t get in the Democratic primary for governor while between them Chris Garner and Lih Young bagged just under 9% in the 2010 Senatorial race. (Garner did finish second, a respectable 75 points behind incumbent Barbara Mikulski.)

But Muse presents a different sort of challenge, making the race perhaps a little more reminiscent of the 2006 primary where Cardin emerged victorious from a crowded 18-candidate scrum with only 44% of the vote, beating Kweisi Mfume by just three points. While Cardin has the obvious advantage of incumbency, he may have the same difficulty in Prince George’s County – where Mfume trounced Cardin by 55,000 votes – but fewer names to split the other 12,000 votes from there which went to the sixteen others in the 2006 race. Moreover, the disadvantage to Muse in not being as well known in the Baltimore area as Mfume was would likely be negated in the rapidly growing counties of southern Maryland, where Muse is more recognized. So there is a definite path to victory in Muse’s case.

However, one handicap for Muse which will help Cardin immensely is that the primary campaign will overlap with the General Assembly session. Unless Muse is willing to give up his State Senate seat, he’ll have one hand tied behind his back insofar as fundraising and campaigning goes.

So what does this mean to the Republican who emerges from the GOP primary? For one thing, a strong primary challenge to Cardin will help negate the monetary advantage he’s certain to have – as of the September 30 filing Cardin had a war chest of $2.3 million he was sitting on, with no Republican even into six digits with their total. It goes without saying that a Democrat in Maryland is going to have a financial advantage over a Republican, but it would be more advantageous to see some of that used up well before November.

But there are two other possible effects. Muse was the lone Senate Democrat to vote against the Congressional redistricting plan Martin O’Malley and his cronies foisted upon the state because it was felt that minorities got the shaft. Add the bruised feelings sure to occur when minority voters feel put upon by the Democratic establishment once again because they’re expected to unquestioningly back a white candidate who defeated one of their own in the primary and, though they’ll turn out in droves to support the top of the ticket, the remaining races may see serious undervoting. The trick will be getting Republicans who know the state is likely written off by the national GOP to turn out and vote for the whole ballot. Most Marylanders will only see three races: President, Senator, and their local Congressman. (A smattering will get other local races and ballot issues to vote on as well.) While turnout is usually best for a Presidential election, it’s still nowhere near 100 percent.

It’s nice to see a little bit of drama on the other side for a change, and it could serve as a warmup for the real battle royale sure to come once 2014 rolls around and offices aplenty open up across the state.