District 38 includes all of Somerset and Worcester Counties as well as much as Wicomico County. It is divided into three subdistricts and features some of the most interesting races in this election cycle. Unlike in much of the State, the general is the real show here on the south Shore.
The Senate race is probably the hottest general election contest in the State. Democratic Sen. Jim Mathias faces a tough challenge from Republican Del. Mike McDermott. This is a battle royale between two long successful politicians.
Mathias, a former mayor of Ocean City, served one term in the House before winning election to the Senate in 2010. McDermott is a former mayor of Pocomoke City and police chief in Snow Hill who won election to the House in 2010.
In January, campaign finance report filings revealed that McDermott had just $20K cash on hand compared to an impressive $208K for Mathias. He will need every bit of it. District 38 is red territory. Though Mathias won in the tough Democratic year in 2010, his margin over his GOP opponent was just 1.4%.
Somerset is the most Democratic county in the district–Obama carried it by 1.9% in 2012–but it only cast 16% of the district vote in 2010 and Mathias narrowly lost it. Worcester cast 46% of the vote but is more Republican–Romney won it by 18%. Nevertheless, Mathias who hails from Ocean City won it with 52% in 2010.
Portions of Wicomico comprise the remainder of the district. Wicomico is more narrowly Republican, as Romney won by just 5%. But the best Democratic precincts in Salisbury are in the neighboring black-majority District 37A. Mathias narrowly lost in Wicomico in 2010.
McDermott represents the same people as Mathias so any incumbency advantage is limited. Mathias will need all of his political skill as well as his mighty campaign war chest to beat the Republican lean of the district for a second time.
Backed by Rep. Andy Harris, one of my Eastern Shore sources describes McDermott as “to the right of Genghis Khan” on both social and fiscal issues. No one would confuse comparatively moderate Mathias with a Western Shore liberal but the difference between him and McDermott cannot be missed.
This race will help shape both Senate caucuses in the future. McDermott’s election will drag the GOP further to the right, bad news for its long-term statewide viability. A loss by Mathias would also weaken the strength of Democratic centrists, pulling the caucus to the left and increasing party polarization.
I expect Senate President Miller to go all in to support Mathias in the general election. Can the Republicans do the same for McDermott? And can McDermott raise enough cash once the session ends to run a viable campaign of his own?
General Election Rating: Toss Up.