Primary will decide almost half of state Senate, much of House, and shakeup larger counties

By Len Lazarick

Although the general election is still two months away, the results of Tuesday’s primary will decide many of Maryland’s next set of leaders.

Almost half the members of the Maryland Senate will be decided by the end of the primary Tuesday evening, as a small percentage of voters in 13 legislative districts dominated by one party choose their senators. Another 10 members in the 47-member Senate have no opposition at all.

The same is true for scores of members of the 141-seat House of Delegates, as Democrats choose nominees in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City. These nominees will have little or no opposition in the general election. Six other districts dominated by Republicans will also select representatives who will likely take seats in the House.

Voters will also begin a complete shake-up of local government in two of Maryland’s largest counties – Prince George’s and Baltimore – choosing new county executives and much of their county councils. The Democratic winners in Prince George’s will be in charge; no Republicans have been elected to office there in eight years.

This is the first time has covered a primary election, but its reporters and editors have covered many elections. We’ll be trying to figure out how best to serve our readers as the results come in with the roundup and our own stories.

Here is our rundown of some of the races to watch on Tuesday:

GOVERNOR: In the most prominent statewide race, Tea Party Republicans will decide how big a message they’ll send to ex-Gov. Bob Ehrlich by voting for his more conservative rival, Brian Murphy, a 33-year-old businessman who’s never run for office before. Maryland Public TV has lots of five-minute interviews with each of the statewide candidates on its website. 

Gov. Martin O’Malley faces token opposition in the Democratic primary. Any significant votes for his unknown opponents would indicate problems for the incumbent among Democrats.

U.S. SENATE: Five of Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s six little known rivals in the Democratic primary have not raised enough money to be required to file a report. The other one, Christopher Garner, has less than $1,000 left in the kitty, compared to Mikulski’s $2.8 million of cash on hand.

On the Republican side, where there are 11 candidates, Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Dr. Eric Wargotz has raised five times more than his nearest rival — $773,000, most of it a loan he made to his campaign. Wargotz has also been the only one on TV with a hokey but attention grabbing ad depicting Mikulski, a 24-year Senate veteran, as a dinosaur. The ad appears to be an innovation, with only the Wargotz spot showing up in a Google search for “insidersaurus,” as he calls the senator. Democrats describe the ad as “stupid.”

Republican Jim Rutledge raised $155,000, but has little left of it. Most of the others brought in so little that they didn’t have to report it the Federal Election Commission.

COMPTROLLER: In the comptroller’s race, Republican voters will be tested to see if they’ve been paying attention. Bill Campbell, who has been the chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Amtrak, among other posts, faces Brendan Madigan, who has about as much experience in financial affairs as an 18-year-old high school student can have.

The winner will face Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot in the general election.

STATE SENATE: The key races will be focusing on are those we’ve already reported on ourselves or have covered extensively in the daily State Roundup.

They include the eight races in which an incumbent senator is being challenged by a delegate or former delegate in the same party. There are six Democrats and two Republicans who are in this situation.

As in many cases where ideological differences are slim, many of these contests have turned nasty on a personal level, particularly in Montgomery County. Very intense is the race in District 14, where Sen. Rona Kramer, one of the county’s few remaining pro-business representatives who is also liberal on social issues, has been targeted by unions and progressive groups supporting Del. Karen Montgomery. Kramer’s campaign literature has emphasized the considerable hole in Montgomery’s 12-year service – her decision to take a planned overseas vacation rather than vote in the 2007 special session where the votes in the House of Delegates were close.

In District 39, incumbent Sen. Nancy King produced a series of campaign pieces showing her challenger, Del. Saqib Ali, sleeping on a couch allegedly in the House of Delegates lounge.

On the Republican side, where the contests are about who is the most conservative, Dels. Chris Shank and Jim King are trying to unseat, respectively, Sens. Donald Munson in District 2, and “Big Ed” Reilly in District 33. King’s assertions that Reilly was a tax-and-spender on the Anne Arundel County Council took Democrats by surprise, given his voting record with the most conservative members of the Senate.

Three races with delegates facing incumbent senators are fueled by the fact that party central committees appointed those senators and rejected their challengers: Sens. Reilly, King and David Harrington in District 47.

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