Liberal Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D.-Md.) surprised members of his own party and stirred up Maryland’s political scene March 11 when he announced he would not seek re-election to a sixth term. The 72-year-old senator vacates a seat that should remain in control of Democrats, but with Maryland also playing host to a gubernatorial race in 2006, the GOP hopes capitalize on a crowded and divergent field of candidates. Several Maryland Democrats, including Representatives Benjamin Cardin, Elijah Cummings, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger and Chris Van Hollen, have set up exploratory committees, but former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who went on to lead the NAACP, has positioned himself as the top Democrat. Republicans are hoping for popular Lt. Gov. Michael Steele to forgo a planned run for governor in 2010 and instead try for the Senate next year.