BERLIN — With the first phase of the roughly 1,300 absentee ballots tallied early Thursday, Maryland District 38 Senator Jim Mathias marginally increased his lead over Republican challenger Mike McDermott and appears poised to regain the seat after what was one of the most spirited campaigns during the election.
At the close of the polls on Tuesday, Mathias has earned 19,133 votes, or 51.6 percent, while McDermott had tallied 17,905, or 48.3 percent. However, with a lead of 1,228 votes and roughly 1,300 absentee ballots yet to be counted, Mathias pending re-election was put on hold and the incumbent was decidedly guarded on Wednesday until the final numbers were tallied.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “There were 1,800 absentee ballots requested and about 1,300 were returned and they will be counted over three processes, so doing the math, it looks good, but anything is possible.”
By mid-day on Thursday, the first batch of absentee ballots for Senate District 38 had apparently been tallied because the numbers changed ever so slightly. Mathias had seen his vote count increase from 19,133 to 19,183 by mid-day on Thursday, representing an increase of 50 votes. McDermott’s tally went from 17,905 from the close of polls on Tuesday to 17,948 by Thursday, representing an increase of 43 votes. Essentially, Mathias had increased his lead by just seven votes, but with McDermott needing to practically sweep the absentee ballots, the writing has started to appear on the wall.
The Senate District 38 campaign was one of the most spirited at best, and perhaps the ugliest at worst, from a Lower Shore perspective during the election. Mathias and McDermott battled extensively over the last few weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election with the latter taking a particularly aggressive approach.
McDermott, an incumbent House District 38B Delegate, was left without an obvious House district in which to run in 2014 when the Lower Shore legislative districts were redrawn. The District 38A seat was occupied by incumbent Republican Charles Otto, who won handily over Democratic challenger Percy Purnell on Tuesday, and the old 38B District was carved out of a portion of Wicomico where longtime Democratic Delegate Norman Conway was upset on Tuesday. A new District 38C, won decisively by Republican Mary Beth Carozza on Tuesday, encompassed much of northern Worcester County and a small segment of Wicomico
Essentially, the redistricting left McDermott on the outside looking in, in terms of a House race and he set his sights on the District 38 Senate seat and Mathias. McDermott challenged Mathias on his alleged liberal voting record and support for the Democratic leadership in Annapolis including Governor Martin O’Malley and on his voting record on behalf of his constituents on the Lower Shore. In the end, however, it appears the voters in District 38 will send Mathias back to Annapolis. McDermott did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Meanwhile, Mathias appears to be a lone beacon of Democratic success in a sea of Republican victories at all levels on the Eastern Shore and across Maryland on Tuesday. The incumbent senator, a former Ocean City Mayor and House District 38B Delegate, earned his advantage in the Senate District 38 race on Tuesday in Worcester and Somerset. McDermott edged Mathias in the Wicomico portion of the district on Tuesday, collecting 6,356 votes to Mathias’ 6,334.
However, Mathias scored well in Worcester, collecting 9,332 votes to McDermott’s 8,754, and in Somerset, collecting 3,467 on Tuesday compared to McDermott’s 2,795. No less important for Mathias were the early voting returns. Mathias outpaced McDermott by over 400 votes when the early voting numbers were tallied, collecting 3,846 to McDermott’s 3,426.
When Mathias returns to Annapolis for the upcoming General Assembly session, he will find many of his former Democratic colleagues in the House have been replaced following the sweeping elections on Tuesday, including a Republican administration with Larry Hogan and Boyd Rutherford. Mathias pointed out this week he is no stranger to working with a Republican administration and was appointed by then-Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich to fill out the late longtime District 38B Delegate Bennett Bozman’s seat. Mathias said he is looking forward to forging new relationships.
“I’ve always prided myself on building effective working relationships and I look forward to working with the new governor,” he said. “Certainly, Maryland and the rest of the country has spoken and I heard that message long before yesterday’s election. Folks want us to get together to work to get the job done. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Mathias said he will embrace his new colleagues for the benefit of his district and the Lower Shore.
“We work for the people of the district and we go to work every day to build alliances across the district and across the state,” he said. “That’s the true test. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”