By ABBY BROWNBACK
ANNAPOLIS (November 10, 2010)Prince George's County voters paved Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's path to a second term, casting ballots in his favor at an almost 8-to-1 ratio. Baltimore wasn't far behind, backing O'Malley with five votes for every one against.
And they can leverage this support for attention to local issues in the upcoming legislative session.
"The voters got it," said Rushern Baker, the Prince George's county executive-elect. "We needed to be out front, leading the state to return the governor."
The county, where almost two-thirds of residents are African-American, turned out in higher numbers than in 2006 and bolstered O'Malley's previous margin of victory by almost 46,000 votes. In the first match-up between O'Malley and then-Gov. Bob Ehrlich four years ago, Prince George's County voted for O'Malley and against Ehrlich at a 3.8-to-1 ratio.
In a year when the country's top Democrat has anemic approval ratings in many states, at least some Marylanders cast their votes in indirect support of President Obama.
"I voted for Gov. Martin O'Malley to help Obama," said Peter Davy, a 26-year-old mechanic from Prince George's County. "I'm concerned because a lot of (Obama's) policies are getting turned down and his approval rating is low."
Pamela Brooks, a 50-year-old postal worker, also voted for O'Malley, saying she wanted to see Democrats do well in last week's election for Obama's sake.
"I think they need to give the president more strength," said Brooks, of Prince George's. "If he had more people working with him he could get his job done."
Perhaps the marked shift can be attributed to Obama's visit to Bowie or former President Clinton's appearance in Baltimore, where O'Malley was mayor for six years.
"The president held his own in Democratic areas where he showed up," said Daniel Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond, "but I don't think it was enough."
Nationally, there was no real change in African-American voting habits, he said, and no surge in the percentage of African-Americans backing Democrats.
"There's no question President Obama's presence on the ticket (in 2008) increased the vote share of African-Americans nationwide," Palazzolo said. "It slipped back to the norm this year."
But support in Prince George's, as evidenced by Davy and Brooks, puts the county in a position to lean on O'Malley for attention to specific issues—such as funding for education and Prince George's Hospital Center, and economic development—as the governor drafts priorities for his next term, Baker said.
"We are the area where the growth of the state's going to take place," Baker said. "The election just highlights that for the governor. It highlights the importance of Prince George's County to the economic and political part of the state. We are a major player."
Senate President Mike Miller said areas like Prince George's and Baltimore "were most generous to the governor in terms of support."
State Sen. Verna L. Jones, D-Baltimore, said the city is in a "position of strength" to call O'Malley's attention to its needs, even if it's not a quid pro quo situation.
"He does appreciate Baltimore and the specific issues we face," said Jones, who is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. "He'll do the right thing by Baltimore."
Baltimore legislators will make sure the administration pays attention to education issues, Jones said, particularly the geographic cost of education index that offers additional funding for school systems where educating children is more expensive.
She said the city also needs to see reforms to the correctional system and new jobs for locals as a result of projects like the Red Line, the proposed 14-mile transit line that would run east to west through Baltimore, and the State Center, a proposed urban community in the city's Midtown District.
Capital News Service's Stacy Jones contributed to this report.