Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ballot Initiatives May Impact 2012 Election in Maryland

The possibility of two high profile ballot measures - repeal of the MD DREAM Act and Same-Sex marriage - may make the 2012 election in Maryland anything but boring.

Ordinarily, a presidential election year in Maryland is pretty boring stuff. No Republican presidential candidate has carried the state since George H. W. Bush in 1988 and no Republican has won a Senate race since Mac Matthias in 1980. In 2008 Maryland delivered Barack Obama one of his largest victory margins.

At first blush, one would be forgiven for expecting 2012 to be another boring presidential election year in the Free State. Though President Obama's approval rating nationally is languishing in the mid-forties his approval in Maryland is just north of 50% - thanks largely to the overwhelming support of African American voters. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin will be seeking election to a second term and in the midst of the 2010 Republican tidal wave, Cardin's senior counterpart, Barbara Mikulski, cruised to reelection with 60% of the vote.

Maryland's Congressional districts were just redrawn as well and the state's two safe Republican districts (the 1st on the Eastern shore and the 6th in Western Maryland) were reduced by half with Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's district redrawn to include a host of new Democratic voters from Montgomery county.

Normally, one would expect 2012 to be year in which Republicans and conservative Independents and Democrats might decide to stay home - but there's reason to believe that 2012 will be anything but a normal presidential election in Maryland. Indeed, 2012 may reveal serious divisions within the state's Democratic electorate and the creation of some strange political bedfellows.

During the 2011 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a controversial measure known as the Maryland DREAM act. Under the bill, signed into law by Governor O'Malley, the children of undocumented residents would be granted the opportunity to attend Maryland colleges and universities and pay in-state tuition. The public backlash to the new law was significant and with precious little effort or money an opposition group quickly gathered enough signatures to suspend the law and place it on the ballot in 2012. By design, it is very difficult in Maryland to mount a successful petition drive against a piece of legislation but organizers gathered twice the number of required signatures in record time.

The 2011 session also saw the defeat of Same-Sex marriage legislation. Though such measures have passed in the House of Delegates in the past they always died in the Senate. In 2011, the Maryland political world was shaken when then the Senate narrowly passed the measure. Under tremendous pressure from community religious leaders the bill died in the House when an unlikely coalition of black Democrats from Baltimore City and Prince Georges County joined with rural Democrats and Republicans in opposition to the bill.

Same-Sex marriage will be up for a vote during the 2012 session and if it is approved this time there is every expectation that another petition drive will place it on the ballot along with the DREAM Act in 2012.

To understand the potential impact of these two measures on the 2012 vote one need only review the new poll from Gonzales Research. The poll finds voters evenly divided on both measures with 49% opposing the DREAM Act and 48% supporting it. On same-sex marriage 49% favor it and 47% oppose it. The more interesting results, however, come from the results among specific voting blocs.

Democrats (62%) and Independents (56%) support same-sex marriage, but 76% of Republicans oppose it. Independents and Republicans make-up 40% of the state's electorate and the high level of opposition among Republicans coupled with the 4 in 10 Democrats and Independents opposed helps explain the state's split support. The more interesting division, however, is between Democrats overall and black voters (nearly all of whom vote Democratic in Maryland). Though 62% of Democrats support same-sex marriage, nearly the same share - 60% - of black voters oppose it. This represents a significant division among the Democratic electorate.

On the DREAM Act Republicans (71%) and Independents (52%) oppose it Democrats (61%) support it - but not overwhelmingly. Black voters (56%) support the measure.

So how can these numbers help us understand the 2012 election?

Ben Cardin vs. Anthony Muse
Prince Georges County Senate Democrat C. Anthony Muse has announced his intention to challenge Ben Cardin the Democratic party primary. Muse has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and voted against the measure in the 2011 session. Though Cardin enjoys a 68% approval rating among state Democrats, Muse could use the same-sex marriage issue to drive a wedge between Cardin and black voters and conservative Democrats. Cardin has spoken favorably with regard to protecting the civil rights of same-sex partners but has largely avoided taken a position on the issue of same-sex marriage. A challenge by Muse would likely force Cardin to take a firm position. If Cardin endorses same-sex marriage it may provide an opening for Muse.

Even if Cardin wins the nomination, a serious challenge by Muse could weaken him heading into November (Cardin only has a 51% job approval rating) and the presence of same-sex marriage on the ballot may undermine his support among black voters even as they turnout to reelect President Obama. If a credible GOP candidate could siphon some of the Black vote, or more realistically they withhold their vote for Senate, that combined with turn-out by social conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act could face Cardin with a serious challenge.

Maryland's 6th, 8th, and 2nd Congressional Districts
In the newly drawn 6th Congressional District, the ballot measures may save Roscoe Bartlett's job. Based on a vote analysis of the prior and newly adopted congressional districts one would expect a Democrat to win the new 6th district in a presidential election year. But, increased turn-out by conservatives and social conservative would likely make the electorate more similar to the 2010 midterm. In that case, Bartlett may just squeak to victory - dashing Democratic plans to claim a new seat in Congress.

Turn-out by social conservatives and any degree of dissension within the ranks of key Democratic voting blocs could spell trouble for Chris Van Hollen and his newly drawn and decidedly less Democratic 8th district as well as Dutch Ruppersberger in the 2nd district where black voters are crucial to his reelection success.

In the end, Maryland is a democratic state. Republicans have won statewide elections only twice in the last 32 years. Odds favor a strong democratic showing in 2012, but do not discount the impact of these two ballot measure and their potential to disrupt what would otherwise be a boring election year in Maryland.