- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In Maryland, where Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, statewide races are often won and lost in primary elections. But Southern Maryland voters who head to the polls for Tuesday’s primary will find few compelling races on their ballots.
In the 5th Congressional District, both U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) are expected to coast to their respective parties’ nominations.
The second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, Hoyer is an entrenched lawmaker who has spent three decades in Congress.
Since January 2011, Hoyer reported raising more than $2.3 million and, as of March 14, had $1.26 million in his coffers, according to pre-primary reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. His lone competition in the primary comes from Laurel resident Cathy Johnson Pendleton, who as of March 14 had raised $524 and $200 on hand.
“I think it’s obvious Steny Hoyer is going to win the Democratic nod,” St. Mary’s College of Maryland political science professor Todd Eberly said.
As House minority leader, O’Donnell is one of few Republicans with statewide name recognition. He also has the added advantage of being the district’s lone GOP candidate who is both from and well-known in Southern Maryland, where well more than half of the district’s Republican voters reside.
O’Donnell reported raising nearly $54,000 since mid-December and ended March 14 with more than $31,000 in reserve. Neither of the Republicans running against him, health care consultant Glenn Morton and motorcycle mechanic David Hill, both of Prince George’s County, has filed fundraising reports.
“The fact that Tony O’Donnell is known to the people in Southern Maryland and has a history of winning elections down here, my expectation would be that he wins comfortably,” Eberly said. “In some respects, he’s already laying the groundwork for the general election.”
Eberly said that O’Donnell and Newburg resident Charles Lollar, another well-known Southern Maryland Republican who ran against Hoyer in 2010, “would have probably fought a very close race for the nomination” had Lollar tossed his hat in the ring. O’Donnell announced his candidacy in December, a month after Lollar said he would not seek a rematch with Hoyer.
“Without Lollar in it, there’s not anyone in the district with any name recognition that could challenge O’Donnell,” Eberly said.
In the race for U.S. Senate, only prominent Prince George’s County pastor and state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) is considered a credible challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), but Cardin’s popularity with Democratic voters still makes him the heavy favorite to win the nomination.
The state’s junior U.S. senator, Cardin spent two decades each in the U.S. House of Representatives and, previously, the state House of Delegates before winning election to the Senate in 2006, when he collected 54 percent of the vote to Republican Michael S. Steele’s 44 percent.
Cardin reported raising $3.6 million since January 2011 and finished March 14 with $1.9 million in hand. Muse has not reported any financial activity.
“I don’t see Muse being a threat to Cardin,” Eberly said. “It would shock me beyond words if Muse upset Cardin.”
However, Eberly said that if Muse were able to claim between 20 and 30 percent of the state’s Democratic votes, it could be a “sign that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction among African-American voters within the party.”
Political observers have pointed to opposition to same-sex marriage among black voters as a potential rift within the state’s Democratic Party, one that Eberly said could play out in the November general election, when voters will decide whether to legalize gay nuptials in the state.
“If I’m the Democratic Party, my fear would be that [black voters] would turn out, vote against same-sex marriage on the ballot and simply withhold their vote from Democratic establishment candidates,” he said. “Nothing is going to change [President] Barack Obama winning the state in the presidential election, but beyond that, it’s going to be a crazy year.”
Among the 10 Republicans running for the right to challenge Cardin in November, former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino and former deputy assistant secretary of defense Richard Douglas are considered the two frontrunners.
While Douglas has more prior political experience, Bongino has outpaced him in fundraising, raising $188,000 since April 2011 and ending March 14 with $16,000 in the bank. Douglas reported $26,000 in contributions since August 2011 with $21,000 in reserve.
The race is one of the more difficult on the primary ballot to handicap, but Eberly gave Douglas the advantage.
“My sense is that Douglas has the edge,” he said. “From what people are telling me conversationally, looking at social media, and Douglas just seems to have the better organized campaign.”
Early voting began Saturday, and in Charles County 1,295 had cast early ballots through Wednesday, a turnout of 1.68 percent, lower than the state average of 1.88 percent, according to the state board of elections.
Only 1,962 county voters took advantage of early voting during the 2010 gubernatorial primary, when early voting was first available in Maryland, good for a 2.2 percent turnout, ninth-lowest in the state.
“It’s down [from 2010], not by much but it is down a little bit,” County Election Director Tracy Dickerson said.
But the last day of early voting in the 2010 primary marked by far the highest turnout in Charles, when 571 cast ballots. Dickerson was looking for similar results Thursday, the last day of early voting in the 2012 primary, but the early returns that morning weren’t positive.
“We can always hope, but it’s not looking too positive,” she said just after noon Thursday. “It’s been pretty steady today, stragglers in and out.”
On the last day of early voting in the 2010 primary, “it didn’t really pick up until the end of the day around 5 [p.m.]” when people started getting out of work, Dickerson added.
Per usual, she expects the early voting turnout to be much higher for the November general election, when unaffiliated voters also will be able to cast ballots.
Eberly said how Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the two frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, fare in Southern Maryland “will tell you something about the nature of conservatism down here.”
He called the region “the kind of place where Santorum,” considered a more conservative candidate than Romney, “would have to do well to be competitive.”
The state GOP announced this month that in St. Mary’s, where Democrats had held an advantage in voter registration since 1990, registered Republicans now outnumber registered Democrats. As of March 13, when registration for the primary closed, Republicans led Democrats in registered St. Mary’s voters 24,449 to 24,341.