Just south of the Mason-Dixon line and just north of the line between the Union and the Confederacy, the midpoint of the 13 colonies, Maryland has always been betwixt and between. It has a claim to be the typical American state, yet stands out for its particularities. 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 abstract principle 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 in 1861 (''Maryland, My Maryland'' condemns Abraham Lincoln's suppression of pro-Confederate rioters), practical 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 in the rural counties of the Western Shore; horse-racing has thrived here, and seeks to escape its current problems by adding slots. 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, industrial as well as rural, leaving people to their own devices yet with a heavy government presence. 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, for example, is the nation's largest estuary, with water saltier than a river but fresher than the ocean and with unique watermen and shellfish. The terrapin and Chesapeake oyster are rare today; oystermen harvested 5.6 million bushels in 1900 but only 148,000 in 2002, 56,000 in 2003, 26,000 in 2004. Rockfish and Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are much scarcer too. Measures are being taken by the Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania state governments to limit runoff from farms and chicken operations, but still the decline goes on. A bipartisan poll in 2004 found that Bay pollution was rated the number two problem, after health care.
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% Baltimore, 75% 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 toward public life. Baltimore started off as a port and an industrial city, and has 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 grid streets. With its large suburban population, it ranks second in median household income, after similarly suburban New Jersey. It is home to the Orioles in 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.
Baltimore remains the focus of Maryland's public life, for 47% of Marylanders still live in its metropolitan area, and its influence is far greater than Washington's on the Eastern Shore and in the western counties. For years, most of Maryland's successful statewide politicians came from Baltimore; today, both senators live there and commute to Washington. Baltimore has a long Democratic tradition, and most voters in the metropolitan area are registered Democrats; their default mode is to vote Democratic. But in 2002 Maryland did something it hasn't done since 1966: It elected a Republican governor. Congressman Bob Ehrlich defeated Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend 52%-48%. This was very much a Baltimore victory: Ehrlich did not run any stronger in the Washington suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's County than the Republican Ellen Sauerbrey did in her losing efforts against Democrat Parris Glendening in 1994 and 1998. But Ehrlich ran much stronger in the Baltimore suburbs--61% in Baltimore County (which does not include the city), 65% in Anne Arundel County (which includes the state capital of Annapolis), 74% in Harford County (northeast of Baltimore) and 79% in Carroll County to the northwest. Turnout was up smartly in the Baltimore suburbs and in fast-growing Frederick and Calvert Counties, but up only modestly in Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Exit polls are unavailable, but it appears that outside of Montgomery County, about 80% of white Marylanders voted for Ehrlich; with his black running mate, Michael Steele, he seems to have held Townsend's percentage among blacks to something not much higher. Glendening's liberal administration, in which Townsend took an active part, had raised spending sharply and taken liberal stands on all manner of issues. Voters in the suburbs evidently had enough of that, and of an administration that concentrated on Baltimore City, Prince George's and Montgomery. It helped that Ehrlich is an authentic son of the blue-collar suburb of Arbutus, with the characteristic Bawlmer accent you can hear in Barry Levinson and John Waters movies, and a brio for political conflict not often seen in the Washington suburbs. Indeed, the only Republicans elected governor in the last 60 years--Ehrlich, Spiro Agnew and Theodore McKeldin--all had deep roots in Baltimore.
Maryland remains by most measures one of the nation's most Democratic states. It produced higher percentages for Al Gore and John Kerry than all but three other states--although, interestingly, all of those four states have Republican governors. Republicans remain heavily outnumbered in the legislature, despite some gains in 2002. Top positions in the big counties' governments remain a near-monopoly of Democrats; Democrats picked up two Republican-held U.S. House seats in 2002, thanks to partisan redistricting--the best such pickup for Democrats in the entire nation. One reason for this Democratic strength is that some 28% of Marylanders are black, the highest percentage in any state outside the Deep South; even prosperous blacks in Prince George's County and the Baltimore suburbs vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Another overlapping reason is that this state and neighboring Virginia have by far the two highest percentages of federal and public employees, natural backers of the party of government. They help to keep the Washington suburbs solidly Democratic.