The Buck Never Stops

The state of Maryland politics

By Zachary Hands, '15

Any year in which Maryland elects a Republican governor is a strange and dynamic year in state politics.

This past year, of course, was no exception.

Naturally, when you have eight years of one of the most liberal administrations in recent history leading one of the most liberal states in the nation, you elect a Republican governor to replace them…

Right.

No one saw it coming—even in a year in which Republicans were expected to do pretty well.

They ended up doing better than “well,” especially for Maryland. Republicans now hold a GOP record 51 seats in the Maryland House of Delegates; they picked up two more seats in the Senate to bring them up to 14, and they now hold the governor’s mansion.

Not a bad year to be a Republican

Does this shift mean Maryland is changing for the future? I wouldn’t count on it.

We have to keep in mind the conditions that existed to create the Republican wave of 2014 here in the Free State as well as nationally. We had a two-term, big spending, liberal governor. We had a sixth-year Democratic president with below-average approval ratings. We had a disengaged, older, and whiter electorate. We had a Democratic gubernatorial candidate that didn’t quite live up to expectations, was too arrogant about his prospects, and couldn’t escape the shroud of the partisan nature of the current administration of which he was a part.

Let’s be honest; President Obama won Maryland by 26 points in 2012, which was actually a slight increase in vote share from 2008. A Republican seeking the White House hasn’t won Maryland since George H.W. Bush barely took the state in 1988. And both Senators are Democrats, as are seven of the eight U.S. Representatives from the state.

The Maryland State House photographed by Jim Bowen/courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Maryland isn’t going anywhere

A lot of folks have said Maryland could be turning towards the GOP back in 2002, when a similar landscape lined up for state Republicans.

But what happened four years later, in 2006? Martin O’Malley unseated Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich, and the Democrats ran up big margins in the state house and nationally.

Maryland is still one of the most Democratic (Dems outnumber Republicans 2 to 1) in an increasingly Independent country. So there’s no reason to think the state is gearing up for a massive shift to the right.

Sometimes circumstance decides who gets elected, and sometimes voters just choose random people to run the government. There’s no reason to think that 2014 was anything but that.

However, looking ahead to 2016, 2018? There are some serious political winds blowing…

Longtime local icon and Maryland’s senior U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski surprised nearly everyone when she announced she would not seek another term next year. Almost instantly, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards announced they would seek the seat in what will be a large field. The race is likely to provide a brutal primary with one of the rarely open Senate seats coming up and a deep Democratic bench ready to move up.

It’ll be fascinating to see who jumps in, but my early money is on Van Hollen who has a lot of good will and establishment backing.

It also happens to be a presidential year. (How on earth has it been almost eight years since President Obama took office? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.) Maryland is likely to support the Democratic nominee—so basically, Hillary Clinton—and there’s plenty more to come with that race.

Bottom line: The future of Maryland’s politics is in some ways impossible to predict. We live in a political landscape that is extraordinarily volatile.

While 2014 was a great year for state Republicans, look for 2016 and 2018 to see a major Democratic resurgence.

Senior Zach Hands is a communication major with a specialization in journalism and a political science minor. He currently holds an internship at the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2013-14, the Carroll County resident ran as a Democratic candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in the 5th district.

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