GovernorMartin O'Malley (D)
SenatorsBarbara Mikulski (D)
Ben Cardin (D)
- 7 D, 1 R
- 1 through 8
Maryland, situated at the midpoint of the Atlantic coast, south of the Mason-Dixon Line but just north of the line between the Union and the Confederacy, is the crossroads state, with claims to both the North and South, and to both industrial and rural influences. This was the only one of the 13 colonies founded by Roman Catholics—the Calvert family—and its embrace of religious tolerance came less from high-minded ideals than from the Calverts’ desire to protect their property from Protestant monarchs: a harbinger of Maryland’s practical-mindedness. Similarly, although hot-blooded Baltimoreans wanted to secede from the Union in 1861 (the state song, ‘‘Maryland, My Maryland,’’ is based on a poem condemning Abraham Lincoln’s suppression of pro-Confederate rioters), cooler heads prevailed.
The Puritan impulse was never lively here. Prohibition was enforced only laxly in Baltimore, to the delight of its great journalist-cum-lexicographer H.L. Mencken, who called it Charm City. Slot machines were legal for years in the rural counties of the Western Shore and, after years of controversy and pleas from racetrack owners, were legalized statewide in 2008. An old state law guaranteeing blacks equal access to public accommodations specifically excluded the Eastern Shore. By not pursuing any one course rigorously, Maryland could be many things at once—Northern as well as Southern, moralistic as well as libertine, citified but also reliant on nature—mostly leaving people to their own devices. Perhaps as a result, much of Maryland’s political history reads like a chronicle of rogues. Maryland’s genial tolerance may have given it a little too savory a history, but this state cherishes its sense of uniqueness. The Chesapeake Bay is the nation’s largest estuary, with water saltier than a river but fresher than the ocean and with unique watermen and shellfish. Pollution and years of overharvesting have drastically reduced its yield, however. The terrapin and Chesapeake oyster are rare today; oystermen harvested an average of 2.5 million bushels a year from the 1920s to the 1960s but an average of only 104,000 bushels in recent years. Rockfish and Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are much scarcer, too.
Maryland has some reason to be proud of the economy, or economies, it has built over the years. Half a century ago, half the state’s population lived in the city of Baltimore and only one-fifth in the suburbs. Now the proportions are the other way around, and then some: 11% live in Baltimore, 76% in the suburbs. The Census Bureau classifies Washington-Baltimore as a single metropolitan area, the nation’s fourth largest, with 8 million people. But Baltimore and Washington are not fraternal twins like Dallas and Fort Worth or Minneapolis and St. Paul. They are two quite separate cities, with different economic bases and different attitudes. Washington is a one-industry, white-collar capital city, while Baltimore started off as a port and an industrial city. Baltimore managed to stay diversified and successful as it spread out into the countryside from its new central core at the Inner Harbor and the solidly built edifices of its downtown streets. With its large suburban population, Maryland ranks second in median household income, after similarly suburban New Jersey. It is home to the Baltimore Orioles baseball team and their popular Oriole Park at Camden Yards (the first of the new-old ballparks of the 1990s) and to Johns Hopkins University with its Georgian buildings along the affluent corridor that runs directly north from downtown all the way to the developing edge city of Hunt Valley. But with its relatively high tax rates, increased under current Gov. Martin O’Malley, Maryland started to see net domestic out-migration in mid-decade, in contrast to the continuing domestic in-migration into neighboring Virginia and Delaware and into Lancaster, York, and suburban Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. And the long-term shrinking of the manufacturing workforce continues: Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant, which employed 30,000 in the 1950s, succumbed to bankruptcy, but it was bought by the Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008 and now employs 6,000.
Baltimore remains the focus of Maryland’s public life. Forty-seven percent of Marylanders still live in its metropolitan area, and its influence is far greater than Washington’s on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland. For years, most of Maryland’s successful statewide politicians came from Baltimore. For more than two decades, its U.S. senators have lived there and commuted to Washington. Baltimore has a long Democratic tradition, and most of its voters are registered Democrats. Democrats currently hold more than two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of the Legislature, and they outnumber Republicans 7-1 in the state’s U.S. House delegation. They have lost the governorship only once since 1966: in 2002, when Republican Bob Ehrlich, capitalizing on the unpopularity of incumbent Parris Glendenning, beat Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend 52%-48%. But Democratic legislators battled Ehrlich ferociously, and despite a favorable job rating, he was defeated in 2006 by then-Baltimore Mayor O’Malley 53%-46%.
In national politics, Maryland for many years was a marginal state. It voted Republican for president in 1976 and as recently as 1988. But now it has become one of the most Democratic states in national politics, for two reasons. Almost 29 percent of Marylanders are African-American, the fourth-highest percentage among the states, after Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia (Maryland’s black percentage passed South Carolina’s in 2007). Many of Maryland’s blacks, especially in Prince George’s County, are college-educated and economically upscale, but they vote almost as heavily Democratic as do more-downscale blacks. That was even the case in 2006, when the Republican candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat was Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African-American from Prince George’s County. Steele made some inroads among black voters, but not enough. He got 25% of black voters statewide and 50% of white voters, in contrast to Ehrlich, who that year got 15% of blacks and 54% of whites in his failed re-election bid. Steele won 23% in Baltimore City and 24% in Prince George’s, not much above George W. Bush’s 17% in those jurisdictions. He lost the contest to Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin 54%-44%, and went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee after the 2008 election. In the primary, Cardin had defeated former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume by a narrow 44%-41%.
The other reason for Maryland’s Democratic strength is the increasing Democratic percentages in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, the two that are closest to Washington and that cast almost a third of the state’s votes. In 1980, Montgomery and Prince George’s weren’t more Democratic than the rest of the state. Indeed, in the presidential race that year, they were slightly less so. But over a generation in which Republicans have backed smaller government and taken conservative cultural stands, Montgomery and Prince George’s, like all of metro Washington, have become more Democratic than the rest of Maryland and the nation as a whole. In presidential elections from 1984 through 1996, Montgomery and Prince George’s were about 10% more Democratic than the rest of Maryland. In the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, with George W. Bush on the ballot, they were about 15% more Democratic than the rest of Maryland. In 2008, with Barack Obama on the ballot, and with his strong appeal to both black and high-income voters, Montgomery and Prince George’s were 25% more Democratic than the rest of Maryland. To look at it another way, Maryland, excluding Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, was in 1980 and is today not much more Democratic than the nation generally. This rest-of-Maryland gave Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush comfortable margins in 1984 and 1988; voted by about the national average for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996; gave small majorities to Al Gore in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2004; and voted 54%-44%—not much more than the national average—for Obama in 2008. In most of these contests this rest-of-Maryland would have been a GOP target state. But the heavy Democratic trend in the Washington suburbs has made Maryland solidly Democratic, and it has not been a Republican target state in 20 years.
Those trends seem likely to continue. Obama carried Maryland by a whopping 62%-36% (in only five other states did he win by a bigger margin). He won 94% of the votes from blacks and lost whites to John McCain by only 49%-47%. Turnout increased most in Charles County, which has had a large African-American migration from Prince George’s, and in majority-black Prince George’s and Baltimore City. The Democratic percentage was up most in Charles and Frederick counties, both with many new residents from closer-in Washington suburbs.
Maryland’s strong Democratic preferences have helped its members of Congress wield major influence over important issues, though it is often quietly exercised. Paul Sarbanes retired in 2006 after 30 years in the Senate and served six years in the House before that; he was chief sponsor and shaper of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the wide-reaching crackdown on corporate accounting abuses. Barbara Mikulski was elected to the House in 1976 and the Senate in 1986; she is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and up for re-election in 2010. Ben Cardin was elected to Sarbanes’s seat in 2006 and had served for 20 years in the House before that. Maryland’s most influential House member is Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in Congress since 1981. Before becoming majority leader, Hoyer lost races for minority leader and House speaker to Nancy Pelosi, a Maryland native whose father, Thomas D’Alessandro, was a U.S. congressman and mayor of Baltimore. The two rivals once served together as interns in the office of Sen. Daniel Brewster. But Hoyer remains an influential and politically adept leader in the House and a major force in American politics.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
With its large black population, most prominently in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County but also in other suburban counties, and with the increasing Democratic strength in the Washington suburbs of Montgomery County, Maryland has become one of the most Democratic states in presidential elections. It was Bill Clinton’s third-best state in 1992 and fifth-best in 1996. It was Al Gore’s fourth-best in 2000, John Kerry’s fifth-best in 2004, and Barack Obama’s sixth-best in 2008.
From 1992 to 2004, Maryland held its presidential primaries a week before Super Tuesday to try to get noticed, with limited success. The one significant result came in 1992, when Paul Tsongas beat Clinton 41%-33%, with all of his margin and more coming from suburban Baltimore and Montgomery County. In 2008, the primary was held on February 12, the same day that Virginia and the District of Columbia held their primaries. This was the single best day in the nomination contest for Obama. He won Virginia 64%-35%, D.C. 75%-24%, and Maryland 61%-36%. He garnered 79% in Prince George’s County and 74% in Baltimore City and carried all of Maryland’s major suburban counties as well. His lowest percentages there were 55% in Montgomery County and 56% in Baltimore County.
|111th Congress: 7 D, 1 R|
Maryland was the scene of the Democrats’ most successful partisan gerrymandering in the 2002 cycle. The convoluted shapes of the districts in the Baltimore area would have made Elbridge Gerry blush. The goal of the plan was to protect all four Democratic incumbents and to draw districts that would be impossible for 2nd District Republican Bob Ehrlich and 8th District Republican Connie Morella to win. The Bush 2000 percentage in the 2nd fell from 55% to 41%, and in the 8th from 36% to 31%. Ehrlich ran for governor and had his revenge, though as it turned out, for only four years. The 8th District attracted three Democratic challengers, each arguably a stronger candidate than any Morella had faced before, and she ended up losing narrowly to state Sen. Chris Van Hollen. The four Democratic incumbents had no problems. The two other districts, the 1st, based in the Eastern Shore, and the 6th, based in western Maryland, snake into the Baltimore suburbs to take in heavily Republican precincts and seemed to be safely Republican. But in 2008, after Republican state Sen. Andy Harris beat moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrest in the 1st District primary, Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney, Democrat Frank Kratovil, managed to win a narrow victory in the general election.