Josh Kurtz -- Wanted: Fresh Blood

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The Maryland Democratic Party had its annual spring fundraiser Monday night at Martin’s Crosswinds, a charmless catering hall in Greenbelt.

By the time it got going, it was past the deadline for this column, so we can provide no on-hand coverage. But if it was anything like MDP fundraisers of the past hundred years or so, it was a predictable affair, with all the usual suspects under one roof.

This may be the best thing Maryland Republicans have going for them this election year.

It is very difficult for Maryland Democrats to call themselves the party of the future when they are trotting out Sen. Barbara Mikulski (age 73, with 39 years in elective office), Sen. Ben Cardin (age 66, with 44 years in elective office), Rep. Steny Hoyer, the U.S. House majority leader (age 70, who won his first election 44 years ago), state Senate President Mike Miller (age 67, with 40 years in the legislature, including 24 in his current powerful position), and so on.

These are competent and dedicated public servants, and most remain popular. But when your party can’t offer fresh faces at the highest levels of government, when it’s the same-old, same-old year after year after year, it’s potentially a problem.

2006 was a cleansing and cathartic election year for Maryland on many levels. Exiting the stage — voluntarily or otherwise — were five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes (then age 73, with 40 years in elective office), state Attorney General Joe Curran (whose political career began in the 1950’s and who was 75 at the time), and state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (whose own career was launched in the '50s and was 84 when he was ousted in the Democratic primary).

In that election, Marylanders also chose new executives in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and Martin O’Malley’s victory in the gubernatorial election paved the way for a new mayor in Baltimore.

The year would have been more tantalizing — and produced more new blood — if more members of the state’s Congressional delegation had decided to run for Sarbanes’ Senate seat. As it happens, only Cardin gave up his safe House seat to run, and he was replaced by John Sarbanes, the Senator’s son — kind of a rerun with an asterisk — after a crowded and competitive Democratic primary.

But by installing Doug Gansler, then 43, as attorney general, and Peter Franchot, then 58, as comptroller, voters in 2006 were at least making those statewide positions what they are in most other states — potential political launching pads for even higher office, rather than sinecures for venerable (and even venerated) senior citizens like Curran and Schaefer (and Louis Goldstein before him). And of course, the voters elected O’Malley, who was then 43, as governor (though the man he defeated, Bob Ehrlich, wasn’t much older at age 48).

There will be no such movement in 2010. Mikulski, Gansler and Franchot appear to be shoo-ins for re-election. Only one of the state’s eight House members is in any kind of danger. And there won’t be a “new” governor either, even though Ehrlich could get his old job back. The closest thing to a fresh face on the statewide level will be the new lieutenant governor, whoever that might be, if Ehrlich defeats O’Malley.

So what does all this mean for the Maryland GOP? It means that if Republicans could ever get their act together and produce fresh and viable candidates, they might be able to capture the imagination of voters and at least provide credible alternatives to the Democratic veterans — and exciting races to boot.

But so far, that’s not happening.

Ehrlich’s presence at the top of the ballot provides Republicans some hope. He has a decent chance of winning, and he’ll have coattails that a weaker GOP gubernatorial nominee would not.

But even though he’s been the Republican Golden Boy in Maryland for almost two decades, Ehrlich has mostly been about Ehrlich through the years, and less about party building. The party has suffered as a result.

And where are the fresh faces?

State Sen. Andy Harris (R) has a better than even shot of knocking off freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) in their Congressional rematch. But Harris is a retread — and he may be the weakest possible candidate the Republicans could have put forward.

Republicans are high on former state Del. Ken Holt, their likely nominee in the race for Baltimore County executive. But Holt, who is young enough at 58, last held office in 1998. He’s been “promising” for years.

The lone Republican to hold a Congressional seat in Maryland is Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. He is 83. People have grown old waiting for Bartlett to retire (see state Sen. Larry Haines, age 72, who always wanted to serve in Congress but is calling it a career after two decades in Annapolis).

The frontrunner in what will no doubt be a crowded race to succeed Bartlett, whenever that happens, is probably state Sen. Alex Mooney. He’s still quite young at 38, but he’s been waiting in the wings an awfully long time already.

There is some talk that Republicans will try to put up a viable challenge to Franchot this year. But if that happens, their standard-bearer might well be state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, who has already run unsuccessfully for Congress and U.S. Senate in recent years, and whose main appeal to GOP leaders is his ability to self-fund his races.

And when it came time for Republicans to find a new state party leader recently, they turned to Audrey Scott, a former Prince George’s County councilwoman and state planning secretary under Ehrlich. Her official biography does not list her date of birth, but she graduated from college in 1957. You do the math.

Democrats have many structural, institutional and ideological advantages over Republicans in a relatively blue state like Maryland. But the GOP may be throwing away its best chance to make some gains if it can’t find some fresh young faces to spread its message and appeal to voters who are so hungry for change.

Josh Kurtz is a managing editor at Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. He can be reached at .

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:


Black and Blue?


Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.