October 25, 2010

Republicans are hoping to unseat Sen. Brochin in Towson district

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By Barbara Pash
For MarylandReporter.com

Republican Party strategists are targeting Baltimore County’s 42nd legislative district senate seat, with two-term Democratic incumbent Jim Brochin in their sights.

Despite a Democratic majority, the district went for Bob Ehrlich for governor in both 2002 and 2006. Republicans hope Ehrlich will take the district again next week, and bring Republican state senate candidate Kevin Carney along with him.

Two of the three delegates in the district are Republicans, one of the few legislative districts split that way, and Republicans have long coveted the seat as one of the five they hope to pick up this year.

But Brochin is a dogged campaigner, door knocking throughout the term, and an aggressive fundraiser, who has brought in more money than all but three or four of his Senate colleagues. His independent voting record has earned him the wrath of Democratic Senate President Mike Miller, who moved Brochin’s seat to the back of the chamber despite his seniority.
Ehrlich coattails

But GOP leaders still think they have a good shot.

“Ehrlich’s people have been campaigning in the 42nd. They’ve gone door knocking and attended events. There is a concerted effort to get out the vote,” said Tony Campbell, incoming chair of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.

Campbell believes Ehrlich could get 60 to 65% of the district’s vote. “What it will come down to is, can Carney get in on Ehrlich’s coattails?” Campbell asked.

Campbell called the demographics of the district “irrelevant.” Its 65,000 registered voters are split 50% Democrat, 30% Republican and 17% independent.

Despite the numbers, the population is “middle class, their investments have been hurt by the recession, and they’re fiscally conservative,” said Campbell. “It’s one of the few districts where the national anti-incumbent trend could play out.”

Carney is counting on it. “I am focusing my campaign on economic issues. There were Reagan Democrats and Ehrlich Democrats and they’ll be Carney Democrats,” said Carney, a small business owner who has raised about $208,000 for his campaign.

Campbell said Brochin “sees the possibility of vulnerability” in this election.
Brochin gears up

If he does, he’s certainly not admitting it. “All races are tough,” Brochin said, “although clearly, this is a Republican year.”

But Brochin, an insurance agent who has raised $370,000 for his campaign, acknowledged the conservative nature of the district. Of its registered Democrats, he estimated that half have chosen that party affiliation so they can vote in the Democratic primary.

“But they vote Republican in the general election,” he said.

Scott Sokol, president of the Central Baltimore County Democratic Club and a member of the Democratic Central Committee, agreed. “The district is a bit more conservative than other districts where Democrats outnumber Republicans,” he said.

The 42nd includes the Smith-Greenspring neighborhood of Pikesville, Rodgers Forge, Towson, Timonium and Lutherville. Ehrlich lived in the Mays Chapel part of the district before he became governor. A sizeable portion of the county’s Jewish community lives in the Pikesville pocket, particularly more traditional Orthodox Jews.

Carney noted the “very conservative” voting record of precincts in the area around Pikesville High School.

The district is one of a handful in the state with a delegation split between Republicans and Democrats.

In the 2002 election, while Brochin won the senate seat, three Republicans were elected delegates: William Frank, Susan Aumann and John Trueschler.  In the 2006 election, Democrat Stephen Lafferty, who had lost in 2002, won a delegate seat after Trueschler chose not to run for reelection.

“The split district reflects the 42nd,” Sokol said. “People consider it a Republican district, but Brochin has been able to hold onto his seat, and Lafferty won in 2006.”

Sokol attributes Brochin’s success to his being able to “transcend party lines.” The state senator gets along well with the district’s business leaders and Republican voters. In a district that favors independent thinking, Brochin has that reputation.

“He is considered to be a senator whose vote depends on how he feels about a bill,” said Sokol. “If you could pinpoint anyone in the senate who is a maverick, he is, in a positive way.”
Candidates debate

The themes of the two campaigns played out last Wednesday at a Towson University-sponsored forum between Brochin and Carney. Towson students and staffers, the candidates’ backers and members of the media far outnumbered the couple dozen genuine voters.

Carney called the state budget, which has gone from $27 billion to $32 billion between 2007 and 2010, “full of pork,” and Annapolis legislators who support it “part of the problem.”

Brochin emphasized the many times he has crossed party lines on issues, voting against Democratic-backed tax hikes. On a bill to change the generous pension system for legislators, 32 of the 33 Democratic senators voted against it. “Try going back and sitting with your colleagues after that,” said Brochin, the sole Democratic supporter.

Sokol said he would be “very surprised” if Brochin lost the election. “He is able to maintain the Democratic voters and attract the Republicans,” he said.

Campbell has a different opinion. “If I had to pick a legislative district that could swing, I’d pick the 42nd,” he said.

“It’s going to be a very long election night,” Campbell added.

For more extensive coverage of Wednesday’s debate, since Nick DiMarco’s story at Patch.com and Loni Ingraham’s in the Towson Times.