By BRIANNA BOND, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Maryland's seven congressional incumbents sailed to victory Tuesday with all winning at least 50 percent of the vote, and Democrat John Sarbanes took the state's only open seat, according to unofficial results from the State Board of Elections.
The results, which maintained the six-to-two balance between Democrats and Republicans in the state's congressional delegation, enhanced the state's clout nationally as the Democratic Party commanded control of the House and will at least share power with Republicans in the Senate.
"I think that a lot of things happened last night but clearly the message from around the country was one for change," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, who beat Republican challenger Jeff Stein in the 8th Congressional District race with 77 percent of the vote.
In the 5th Congressional District, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, easily won re-election with 83 percent of the vote against Green Party candidate Steve Warner. The minority whip will start his 14th term vying for the majority leader position in a newly Democratic-controlled House.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, one of two Republican representatives, won re-election with 58 percent of the vote, the smallest margin of all the incumbent races. His opponent, Andrew Duck, garnered national attention as an Iraq military intelligence officer and outspoken critic of the war. Duck waged a comparatively strong campaign, seizing 39 percent of the vote, but came up short in his attempt to unseat the seven-term incumbent.
"Congressman Bartlett had a very comfortable win in a very tough year," said Bartlett's spokeswoman, Lisa Wright, who said the congressman had expressed concern about an overall "drag on Republican candidates."
In the 4th Congressional District, Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Largo, toppled Republican Moshe Starkman with relative ease winning 81 percent of the vote, after barely eking out a victory in the primary over challenger Donna Edwards, who came within 3,000 votes of unseating the seven-term incumbent.
Sarbanes, a political newcomer and son of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, won the 3rd Congressional District seat vacated by Rep. Ben Cardin with 65 percent of the vote, beating Republican John White. Cardin, who's never lost an election, beat Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in the Senate race.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, beat Democratic challenger Jim Corwin in the 1st Congressional District with 68 percent.
"The clear sentiment of the country was 'We want a change of direction', and so, to a large extent, each individual race was nationalized," Gilchrest said, who condemned Bush's negative rhetoric against the Democrats.
Dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the Bush administration gave Corwin a strong wave of support, but he struggled to get his message out to voters across the Eastern Shore and in Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties thanks to a marked financial disadvantage.
"The only way to do this is to concentrate much earlier on raising money . . . and I did not do that," Corwin said.
Other campaigns failed to provide strong opposition to Democratic incumbents, particularly in the 2nd Congressional District, where Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville, drubbed Republican challenger, Jimmy Mathis, with 70 percent.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, ran unopposed in the 7th Congressional District.
"The state took a big, giant, step backwards last night in terms of a two-party system," said Zach P. Messitte, political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"The fact that the Republican Party only holds two out of eight congressional seats is very indicative of the election yesterday," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party, who said the group focused more on state-wide races.
Though GOP candidates across the state suffered big blows, she said, at this point there's not much that can be done. "The voters spoke."