The Battle for America 2010: GOP Seeks Big Gains in Deep Blue Maryland

It's been over twenty years since Maryland voted Republican in a presidential race, and even longer that Democrats have dominated the state's congressional delegation and General Assembly. But the Free State has some interesting races dotting the political landscape and Republicans are confident they will taste some rare success.

Chief among those with national impact is the race for the First Congressional District seat. Freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil eked out a plurality win in 2008 buoyed by the impressive Democratic turnout for Barack Obama and a late endorsement from former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, who opted to cross party lines and support Kratovil over the man who defeated him in that February's primary, State Senator Andy Harris. Gilchrest had represented the district as a moderate Republican since 1991, and many of his loyal supporters lent a hand to Kratovil's effort.

Since being elevated to Congress, the former Queen Anne's County state's attorney has, to some extent, demonstrated the independence he promised voters during the 2008 campaign -- most notably, voting against ObamaCare and joining forces with the fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democratic coalition. However, he also flip-flopped on cap and trade, stating he would vote no until a billion-dollar program to assist local farmers was included in the bill. Once that was added, he switched and voted for the measure. And while liberal Democrats grumble about his lack of support on ObamaCare and other key issues, no Democrat stood up to challenge him in the primary this year. (Oddly enough, Kratovil is the only Democrat in the Maryland delegation to not have a primary challenger.)

Meanwhile, undaunted by his close 2008 loss, last January Harris formally announced one of the worst-kept secrets in Maryland politics and threw his hat back into the ring, abandoning a Maryland Senate seat he'd held since 1998 to make a second bid for Congress.

Later, another well-funded entrant announced he would seek the GOP nod. Rob Fisher, a Cambridge businessman, made a splashy entrance into the race and has largely self-funded his campaign. But he hasn't found a great deal of support among GOP ranks and Harris is widely expected to win the Republican primary handily.

Harris also has an advantage as the state Republican Party waived Rule 11, allowing the national party to contribute to his cause during a contested primary. This emphasized the importance of this particular race to national GOP hopes. Among all Democratic freshmen, Kratovil is thought to be among the most vulnerable for defeat in a district which John McCain carried handily.

The conventional wisdom for Maryland's other seven congressional districts has those incumbents winning easily; a group which includes Maryland's lone Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, DCCC head Chris Van Hollen, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. However, Hoyer has a dynamic black conservative Republican opponent in Charles Lollar, who has garnered national attention in his race to unseat Hoyer in the Fifth Congressional District.