Maryland Primary Boosts Democratic Prospects

by Nathan L. Gonzales April 4, 2012 · 12:44 PM EDT

Only one of Roscoe Bartlett’s wishes came true last night. The 85 year-old GOP congressman won renomination in Maryland’s 6th District, but he’ll face wealthy financier John Delaney (D) in November’s general election.

Delaney defeated state Sen. Rob Garagiola, 54 percent to 29 percent, in the Democratic primary. The result is notable since most people believe Democrats in Annapolis drew the district with Garagiola in mind and the legislator enjoyed support from organized labor, progressive groups, and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). But Delaney spent well over a million dollars of his own money to run television ads in the expensive Washington, D.C. media market and used President Bill Clinton’s endorsement to insulate him from Garagiola’s attacks that he is just a closet Republican.

In an interview earlier this year, Bartlett openly admitted that he’d rather face Garagiola (because he’s an attorney with a legislative voting record that’s arguably to the left of the district) and that Delaney would be a tougher foe. President Obama received 56 percent in the district in 2008, so Republicans saw a path to victory against Garagiola, but it’s very unclear that the National Republican Congressional Committee will want to go up against Delaney’s checkbook in such a Democratic district.

Bartlett, who won his primary with 43 percent against six candidates, should run an entertaining campaign, but he should now be considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress.

Maryland’s 6th District is the second recent Democratic primary where the most liberal candidate lost to a candidate that will likely improve Democratic chances of taking over the seat. Brad Schneider (D) likely gives Democrats the best shot of defeating Rep. Robert Dold (R) in Illinois’ 10th District. Both seats are must wins for Democrats if they have any shot at winning back the majority.

The result in Maryland, including Bartlett’s primary victory, runs contrary to the media’s favorite “anti-incumbent” narrative. Through the first five states of the cycle, 49 out of 50 incumbents have been renominated, and two Members lost to fellow Members in redistricting match-ups.

The rest of Maryland’s primaries weren’t nearly as exciting.

In 2006, Ben Cardin won the Democratic nomination with 44 percent in an open seat race. This year, the senator easily disposed of state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D) 74 percent to 16 percent, in the primary and will coast to a second term in November.

On the House side, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) was unopposed while Democratic Reps. John Sarbanes (86 percent) and Elijah Cummings (93 percent), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (85 percent) and former DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (92 percent) all easily won renomination.

At one point in the redistricting process, Rep. Donna Edwards was concerned that a new district could make her vulnerable in a primary. But that map never came to fruition and she won with over 90 percent on Tuesday.

And, initially, it looked like Democrats would target freshman Rep. Andy Harris (R) for defeat by changing the makeup of his district, but instead they went after Bartlett. Harris is used to primaries, after knocking off incumbent Wayne Gilchrest in 2008, but Harris ran unopposed on Tuesday.

Even though Wisconsin held their presidential contest, the Badger State’s House and Senate primaries won’t be held until August 14.

The next big slate of primaries isn’t until Pennsylvania on April 24. Not only could it be Rick Santorum’s last stand, but Republicans will choose a challenger to Sen. Bob Casey (D), incumbent Democrats Jason Altmire and Mark Critz face off in the 12th District and Reps. Tim Murphy (R) and Tim Holden (D) fend off challengers of their own.