By BRIAN WITTE
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A mixture of political circumstances in Maryland is prompting about a half-dozen state legislators to make congressional bids this year.
For one thing, state legislators get to keep their seats in the General Assembly if they lose. That's because state lawmakers aren't up for re-election until 2014, giving them two years before they have to worry about running again to remain in Annapolis if they are defeated in 2012 congressional races.
"So there's really no loss in running for a promotion," said Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Redistricting also is playing a big role in Maryland's newly drawn 6th Congressional District. Both Republicans and Democrats view 10-term U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in western Maryland as vulnerable in a district that now includes a significant portion of Montgomery County.
The change through redistricting drew an outcry from Maryland Republicans, because it added more Democrats to the once-solidly Republican district in western and north-central Maryland. But that's not stopping Republicans from entering the fray to try and knock off the 85-year-old incumbent.
"Some of it isn't very surprising," Eberly said. "The congressional districts have been redrawn such that members of the assembly find themselves in changed districts where they think, `Maybe, I have a chance.'"
Some Republicans might also think more GOP voters may be motivated to come to the polls in 2012.
A Maryland law that would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition under certain circumstances is headed to the ballot for voters to decide. Also, if lawmakers approve legalizing gay marriage this session, it's widely believed that measure will be petitioned to the ballot as well. That would provide another incentive for Republican voters to show up in November, Eberly noted.
With Wednesday's filing deadline approaching, the 6th District has drawn a crowded field of seven GOP candidates.
Sen. David Brinkley, R-Frederick, a former minority leader in the state Senate, is running. Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick, announced Tuesday she's in the race. Robert Coblentz, Robin Ficker, Joseph Krysztoforski and Brandon Rippeon also have filed to run as Republicans. Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney, a former state senator, announced Tuesday he is not running, and he endorsed Bartlett.
Maryland Republicans currently hold two of the state's eight U.S. House seats. Democrats are looking at Bartlett's 6th District in hopes of picking up a seventh Democratic seat.
State Sen. Rob Garagiola, D-Montgomery, will be running against entrepreneur John Delaney in the Democratic primary. Two other Democrats also have filed to run, Charles Bailey and Milad Pooran.
Some Maryland Democratic incumbents are facing a challenge from Republican state lawmakers.
Republican Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, the minority leader in the House of Delegates, is taking on U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, in Maryland's 5th Congressional District in southern Maryland. Glen Troy Morton and David Hill also are running for the GOP nomination.
Maryland political observers predict an uphill climb for Republicans against one of Maryland's most powerful politicians. Plus, there's always the obstacle of registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 2-1 margin statewide.
"Steny Hoyer is not only a Democrat and an incumbent, but he's a high-ranking member of the House leadership who can bring many benefits to his constituents," said Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
Still, Crenson noted that Republicans, even if they lose their congressional races, will achieve a higher level of visibility for when they run for re-election to the General Assembly in 2014.
Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs is seeking to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District. She is in a four-way Republican primary. Larry Smith, a former aide to Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, is running. Vladmir Degen and Howard Orton are in the primary as well.
"I think a bunch of it is wishful thinking," said Donald Norris, chairman of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "My sense is that people like O'Donnell and Jacobs are mistaking a national mood that is anti-Washington for a mood that is anti-Ruppersberger and anti-Hoyer, and I don't think that that mood exists in Maryland."
Harris, for his part, has yet to draw a Republican challenger for a primary in the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of the Eastern Shore, as well as parts of Cecil, Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties. Two Democrats have filed to challenge the first-term congressman: John LaFerla and Wendy Rosen.