Smooth sailing for Mikulski
She and her top advisers would never admit it in public, but Sen. Barbara Mikulski is heading for what looks to be one of her easier campaigns.
We'll get this out of the way: Mikulski, 72, is running again.
She has already informed her colleagues in the Senate and the Maryland delegation that she will seek a fifth term in 2010. If she completes it, she'll tie former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes for longest serving Maryland senator.
If current conditions hold, she'll cruise to victory.
a) Mikulski has been arguably the state's most popular politician for years, and there is no sign anything has changed. The 1.5 million votes she collected in her 2002 campaign are the most ever by a Maryland politician -- more than the 1.1 million William Donald Schaefer got in his comptroller's race that year or the 907,000 he got in his 1986 governor's race, and more than the 942,000 Martin O'Malley collected in his 2006 gubernatorial win. In fact, the only politician on a Maryland ballot who ever got more votes than that was Barack Obama, with 1.58 million votes this month.
b) She's not at the top of the list for Republican targets. The GOP's exceptionally thin bench will spend its limited resources going after Frank Kratovil and Martin O'Malley, the two Democrats with the biggest targets on their backs. The best candidates Republicans have -- Bob Ehrlich, Michael Steele and Kendel Ehrlich -- may not be interested in either of those spots. Heck, they might not run for anything at all. There won't be a powerful enough bullet in the GOP gun to take down Mikulski.
c) She could have a very good year or two. This could be the year that Mikukski -- the most senior member of the Senate without a full committee chairmanship -- could move higher in leadership. She took on added responsibilities on the Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee when its chairman, Ted Kennedy, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. If Kennedy is unable to resume full duties, her role could grow more. Mikulski, a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, could have more power than ever during the first years of the Obama adminisration -- and she's shown that she likes to use it to help out Eastern Shore watermen or union workers at the Port of Baltimore or Allison transmission.
d) She's got plenty of money to tamp down any challengers: about $850,000 in the bank, her aides say.
Democrats could face a tough year in 2010. History shows that the party that takes control of the White House loses seats in Congress during the first mid-term election. But it's highly unlikely that Mikulski will feel the effects.
That means those Maryland politicians waiting for a Senate seat to open, such as Chris Van Hollen, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, among others, need to stay patient.