Crowded fields, presidential races feed uncertainty in Maryland primary battles

HYATTSVILLE, Md. — If any two incumbents succumb to primary challenges this year, they very possibly could both come in Tuesday’s Maryland primary.

Reps. Wayne Gilchrest (R) and Albert Wynn (D) face an anti-incumbent environment and well-funded challengers. Both have drawn criticism from straying too far from their parties’ core ideology.

ADVERTISEMENT

Still, both appear to have some things working in their favor as they fight for their political lives nearly nine months before Election Day.

Higher turnout is expected because of the simultaneous presidential primary, and the broad fields of candidates running for both House seats could dilute the anti-incumbent vote. Historically, both circumstances favor incumbents.

The broad field in the GOP race could especially boost Gilchrest. A third candidate in that race has spent lots of time and money of late attacking the original challenger, state Sen. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisGOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm MORE.

In the Democratic race, Donna EdwardsDonna F. EdwardsDemocratic Senate candidate blasts own party for racial 'foghorn' Autoworkers' union endorsing Van Hollen in MD Senate race Dem leaders' hard sell pays off on omnibus MORE is trying to ready herself for the turnout, and recently has attempted to align herself with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) by attending one of his rallies on Monday. Wynn has endorsed Obama.

While attending one of her own rallies on Saturday, Edwards said worrying about turnout isn’t going to help her.

“The conventional wisdom had me losing by a landslide in the last election,” Edwards said. “I’m just not that fond of trying to guess what people are doing. I’d much rather have a conversation about their vote.”

States across the country have repeatedly reported record turnouts, suggesting crowds will head to the polls in Maryland. High turnout appeared to help Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D) in a tough primary in Illinois on Super Tuesday.

Despite a spirited challenge from assistant Cook County state’s attorney Mark Pera, Lipinski took 54 percent of the vote to Pera’s 25. Turnout in the race increased by about 40 percent from 2006, when Lipinski faced another primary.

Democracy for America President Jim Dean, whose organization has supported both Pera and Edwards, said the theory makes sense but that Edwards can overcome it.

“She ran this race once before. That doesn’t make her an incumbent, but it gives her a lot more name recognition,” Dean said at the Edwards rally. About the higher turnout, he said: “That’s conventional wisdom, and for good reason, but she’s made a concerted effort to go after a lot of folks.”

Dean also said Pera was hurt by the 21 percent of the vote that went to a pair of candidates running what he called “shell campaigns.”

Like Pera, Gilchrest’s and Wynn’s top opponents are both dealing with crowded fields.

In Gilchrest’s case, the late entry of state Sen. E.J. Pipkin and the nearly $1 million he’s self-funded to his campaign have been major X factors. Both Gilchrest and Harris see the race Tuesday being between the two of them, but Pipkin has done plenty to mix things up in the meantime.

Pipkin’s latest television ad, in fact, makes no mention of the incumbent. It instead focuses his angst on charges from Harris that he has a liberal economic record.

Gilchrest’s opponents, in general, have beaten up on each other in the home stretch of the campaign, taking the focus off Gilchrest.

Pipkin said any one of the three can win, given the circumstances, but that he thinks Gilchrest is headed home after nine terms.

“Things are so fluid, and I think the quick movement in the presidential race adds to that fluidity,” Pipkin said.

Harris said all of his opponents are targeting him because he’s ahead, and his campaign has openly accused another candidate, former Orphans Court Judge Robert Banks, of being a Gilchrest plant designed to siphon anti-incumbent votes. Banks has denied this.

Gilchrest said high turnout helps him.

“I think there’s three distinct groups out there with a small portion yet undecided, but I also think that we have a pretty solid edge — not a big edge, but enough of an edge to pull this off,” Gilchrest said.

Gilchrest attended a Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) press conference Monday morning in Annapolis and was on the receiving end of some kind words but no endorsement.

McCain looks strong in the state and appears to have the GOP nomination nearly wrapped up, meaning turnout in the GOP race might not rise as much as in the neck-and-neck Democratic race. In fact, Harris ventured to say turnout might not rise at all due to the less competitive race and cold weather.

“If the conservative base turns out, and there’s every indication that it will, I think we’ll have a good result,” Harris said.

On the Democratic side, no third candidate is likely to pull Pipkin-like numbers in the Wynn-Edwards match-up. Still, the three-person field of 2006 has grown to six this year.

Repeat candidate George McDermott took 4 percent in 2006 — which was larger than Wynn’s three-point margin — and a newcomer, Realtor George Mitchell, has raised and spent nearly $100,000 on his campaign.

The Edwards campaign released a poll last week showing her leading Wynn 40-32, but it did not include the other candidates.

Wynn campaign manager Lori Sherwood said both McDermott and Mitchell have been visible, and she criticized the poll.

Whatever the case, Wynn is taking no chances. His campaign has raised $50,000 in a single day several times in the last two weeks, and Sherwood said the campaign launched its first broadcast TV ad buy Monday.

“Any time a candidate puts out a poll paid for by them, there’s going to be tweaking,” Sherwood said. “But certainly we’re very confident of where we are, and particularly in the last six days you’ve seen a boost.”