By Glynis Kazanjian
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin’s re-election may not be the typical cake walk Maryland Democrats have grown to expect, some Republicans believe.
Cardin already faces a primary challenge from eight Democrats, including state Sen. Anthony Muse, a well-known African American pastor from Prince George's County with close ties throughout the politically potent black churches.
One of Cardin’s Republican challengers could be former Iraq War veteran and U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Counsel, Richard J. Douglas -- a candidate with an extensive public service record that includes stints as a jail chaplain and a pro-bono lawyer for legal and illegal immigrants.
During an interview Monday, Douglas expressed his frustrations with the current climate in the Senate.
“The American people last August said fix the debt ceiling and the economy,” Douglas said in an interview at his home in College Park. “So what did they do? They created a super committee and went on vacation. That was the Senate’s reaction to the people’s demands for solutions. It didn’t work.”
“They are missing the bigger picture,” Douglas said. “People are fed up with incumbents and business as usual. With 15 million Americans out of work, the Senate should not be in recess. The only reason we are having an argument about recess appointments right now is that the Senate wants to be on recess. The only way to fix the Senate’s problems is with new senators.”
Douglas began raising money in November with a fundraiser hosted by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. He has also lined several key endorsements, including Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans for Congress.
In the Republican primary, he will face former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, who has gained significant support from party leaders.
Is Cardin vulnerable?
Traditionally, Democrats running for state-wide office in Maryland have a major voting advantage over Republicans. But with a national distaste for Congress, likely tax increases, a contentious redistricting plan, and the Dream Act and possibly same sex marriage going to referendum, could this be the year Republicans change history?
One public policy analyst does not count out a Republican tsunami. Another is more apprehensive, but acknowledges a perfect storm could produce an atypical win for Republicans.
Todd Ebberly, an assistant professor of political studies at St. Mary's College of Maryland, said a culmination of factors could bring out the Republican vote in droves.
“Typically, a Democrat seeking re-election in Maryland, during a presidential election year, would benefit from the fact that Republican and conservative voters may not turn out in high numbers given the simple fact that the Democratic presidential candidate will win the state's electoral votes,” Ebberly said.
“But 2012 is different. Obama is unpopular and this may suppress minority and Democratic turnout,” Ebberly said. “Voters who still support the president may wish to express their dissatisfaction with Obama by splitting their ticket and voting for Obama, but voting Republican for Senate as a check.
“Also, there will actually be several credible Republican challengers in several of the redrawn congressional districts. This would tend to boost conservative and Republican turnout.
“Finally, the DREAM Act will be on the Maryland ballot in 2012. If the Assembly votes to legalize same sex marriage that will likely be on the 2012 ballot as well. The combination of those issues will turn out social conservatives. Another possibility is that there is considerable opposition to marriage equality among the African American community. This could create a slight wedge between this core bloc of voters and the Democratic Party.
“All of those factors combined would provide a significant boost to a credible and well financed Republican challenger to Cardin,” Ebberly said.
Overwhleming Democratic registration
John Willis, director of the government and public policy program at the University of Baltimore, said a one million voter edge in registration will be hard to overcome.
“It is difficult for any Republican candidate to win state-wide in Maryland.” Willis said. “You have to remember there is a huge registration advantage in Maryland, which is one of the biggest in the country. There are one million more registered Democrats than there are registered Republicans. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances to win.”
Willis said, however, history shows that certain variables have influenced Maryland elections before.
“Democrats lose if the Republican candidate is moderate to progressive, there is a contentious, fractious primary, or there is a huge national wave,” he said.
But Willis said he wasn’t sure if Muse’s entrance into the race, announced last Thursday, would result in a fractured primary.
“It depends on the issues,” Willis said. “Sen. Cardin is one of the most substantial and serious senators in the entire Senate. He’s not a polarizing person. The fractiousness of the primary is just not about candidates, it’s about issues. Where’s the complaint about Sen. Cardin? Where is he at odds with the core constituency? I don’t know there is any real anti-Cardin sentiment in the state,” Willis said.
Muse’s entry changes the picture
Douglas said the main message in Maryland is that Cardin is vulnerable. He believes that the entrance of Muse into the race is a sign that the calculus has changed.
“One of the most distinguished Democratic members in the state senate is running against him,” Douglas said. “Mr. Cardin is extremely vulnerable and his own party is abandoning him. The fact that Sen. Muse has entered the race, means Maryland is in play.”
But Cardin said he will not take his re-election campaign for granted and would debate whoever the Republican nominee is, should he win his primary.
“Senator Cardin will be working hard on the campaign for re-election,” Cardin campaign director Shelly Hettleman said. “He takes nothing for granted and welcomes the opportunity to talk with voters about his record, accomplishments, and reasons for wanting to continue to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate.”
Wargotz may run after all
The filing deadline for the 2012 primary election is 9 p.m. Wednesday. Muse has not officially filed his candidacy with state or federal election officials.
Dr. Eric Wargotz, the Republican nominee against Sen. Barbara Mikulski in 2010, said he is re-visiting the idea of running.
“Yes, we are reconsidering running,” Wargotz said. “If Muse runs the campaign he should run, if he is serious, there are two outcomes for Cardin that would leave a better outcome for Republicans. He will have been criticized by a representative of the Democratic Party, and if Muse wins, we can view it as an open seat. I think Sen. Muse is a credible challenge to Sen. Cardin.”