Redistricting has radically reconfigured District 38A. Whereas the previous version included all of Somerset County as well as portions of Wicomico, the new version dropped all of Wicomico but now incorporates all of Worcester’s municipalities–Berlin, Pocomoke City, and Snow Hill–except Ocean City.
The trade makes the district much more favorable to the Democrats. The portions of Wicomico lost were mostly Republican. The new sections in Worcester are among the most Democratic areas in that county. As a result, the Democrats have a real shot at taking out incumbent Republican Charles Otto, who was first elected in 2010.
His challenger is P.J. Purnell, who was elected to the Crisfield City Council in 2004 and then mayor in 2006. Crisfield, however, is a small town and contains just 8% of 38A’s population. Nonetheless, at 73, Purnell has long roots in the area. Both Otto and Purnell are from Somerset. Making inroads into the new Worcester portions of the district will be critical for both campaigns.
In their January filings, Otto had $9K in his campaign account but Purnell did not even file a report. Of course, as a sitting delegate, Otto has not been able to raise funds during the session. The question remains whether Purnell has taken advantage of the time to raise funds needed for his campaign.
General Election Rating: Toss Up.
The old District 38B elected two delegates but has now been divided into two new subdistricts. The new 38B leans Republican but is nonetheless more Democratic than the old version which elected two delegates.
District 38B now encompasses Delmar, Fruitland, and most of the white portions of Salisbury. Fruitland is a bit more Democratic than the areas around it, which have been carefully placed in 37B. The black sections of Salisbury have been included in 37A to facilitate the election of a minority-preferred candidate.
The new district should easily reelect powerful Appropriations Chairman Norm Conway who has represented this area since 1987 and came in a strong first in 2010. Del. Conway had a robust $90K in his campaign account and no doubt has the ability to quickly raise more. He has a serious opponent, Delmar Mayor Carl Anderton.
But Mayor Anderton had only $2.5K in his campaign account in January, though he could have raised more in the intervening months. And Delmar comprises only 12% of 38B so he will need to work to get known in the rest of the district.
General Election Rating: Likely Conway (D).
District 38C takes in eastern Wicomico and northern Worcester Counties–the most Republican areas in both counties. The Democrats don’t have much of a prayer here, though two–Judy Davis and Mike Hindi–have filed. Sole Republican Candidate Mary Beth Carozza was Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Democrat Judy Davis, former special education teacher and longtime activist, is not a Shore native but nonetheless has real ties in the area. While someone who knows Shore politics well commends her campaign, she needs more than the $1400 reported in January to mount a serious campaign, especially in a district that is so uphill for her party. Mike Hindi, a lifeguard in Ocean Pines, filed an affidavit attesting that he has raised less than $1K.
Don Rumsfeld has regularly held fundraisers for Carozza in St. Michaels. As of January, she had raised $73K and had $51K left in her campaign account. And of course, since she is not a sitting legislator, she has been able to raise more since.
Rating: Safe Carozza (R).
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.