Races of the Week:Duckworth vs. Cardin

“Ben Cardin’s going statewide, so we don’t need to protect him.”

That was the gist of the talk in Annapolis in the late 1990s, as Democrats, who controlled the governorship and both houses of the state legislature were running the congressional redistricting process. With speculation rampant that Cardin, onetime House of Delegates speaker and a congressman since 1986, would run for governor or another statewide office in ’02, his fellow Democrats in Annapolis were convinced there was no need to continue to keep his 3rd Congressional District so securely Democratic. Better to change the map, they reasoned, and enhance Democratic muscle in the districts of Republican Representatives Bob Ehrlich (who was then running for governor, successfully it turned out) and Connie Morella. They did, and, under redrawn lines in ’02, both districts went Democratic.

And Cardin? He decided to stay in Congress after all, but his new district was quite different. Prior to the redrawing of its lines, 70% of the district was reliably Democratic Baltimore County and the city itself. With the new map, however, only 20% of the district was in the city, 38% in suburban Anne Arundel County and another 12% in Howard County. Put another way, under the old map, Al Gore won the 3rd District with 63% of the vote. Under its new lines, George W. Bush would have carried the 3rd with 55% of the vote.

Cardin dodged the bullet in ’02, however, when Republicans failed to mount a strong campaign against him. This time, there will be no easy ride for the 60-year-old incumbent, since the GOP has a known and proven contender in Bob Duckworth, three-term clerk of Anne Arundel County. Given the redrawn district, Duckworth’s own record of electability, and Cardin’s decisively left-of-center voting (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: only 6%), Republicans have a fighting chance to pick up a congressional district that has historically been a waste of time for the GOP.

“This district won’t stand for a congressman who has voted like John Kerry for the past 18 years,” declares Duckworth, 82nd U.S. Airborne veteran and staffer on Capitol Hill and aide in Ronald Reagan’s Department of Housing and Urban Development. “My opponent wants to roll back George W. Bush’s tax cuts. I will vote to make them permanent. He voted consistently against a ban on partial birth abortion, I’m pro-life. He consistently votes to tax Social Security benefits. I want to get rid of the taxes on those benefits. He voted against the $96 billion the President initially requested for the war on terrorism, but says he favors the war. Isn’t that just like John Kerry?”

Citing his own record administering a county office with a $5-million budget and 110 employees, Duckworth also recalls with pride his years at HUD and how the late Secretary Sam Pierce oversaw the cutting of that department’s budget by two-thirds in eight years. In his words: “That’s what I’m about–rolling back government rather than expanding it. Invest in me and that’s an investment in an America that once was.”