Cecil County Sen. Nancy Jacobs Gives Up GOP Leader Post to Explore Political Options; Redistricting Scenarios Abound

October 21, 2011


State Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford/Cecil) told fellow Republicans in Annapolis Thursday night that she would not run again for the GOP Minority Leader post in the state Senate for the 2012 session, saying she wanted to explore other political options– including a possible run for governor or Harford County executive in 2014 or Congress against incumbent Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) in 2012.

But that declaration reflects a deeper political intrigue in the upcoming redistricting battle for state legislative districts following the 2010 census and the Democratic-controlled redistricting process that will re-draw state Senate and House of Delegates district lines. A Democratic-controlled advisory commission will submit a legislative redistricting proposal to Governor Martin O’Malley in December and the governor will submit his version to the General Assembly in January.

Jacobs’ declaration was predicated on the potential redistricting of her state Senate district (34) to cut out Cecil County. Western Cecil County provided her with an overwhelming margin of support that was responsible for her re-election in 2010, after Democrat Art Helton beat her by a tiny margin in her Harford County home base.

In an email, Jacobs said she advised fellow Senate Republicans that she felt she should not seek re-election as their GOP leader for the 2012 session because she could not “give that office all the attention it deserves.” (Jacobs became the first female GOP Senate leader earlier this year.)

Jacobs said she needed time to “ponder my options” and reflect upon calls from constituents that she consider running for governor or Harford County executive or Congress. She did not rule out running again for her Senate seat, however, if the newly drawn map included Cecil County, which she said had been “very supportive of me.”

So what’s a Cecil County voter to make of all this?

There are multiple political scenarios, which include the Democratic leadership in Annapolis wanting to secure the political future of Del. David Rudolph (D-34B); the Democrats’ antagonism toward the Republican-controlled District 36 Senate and House seats in Cecil County held by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel; and the prospect that Smigiel and Pipkin will move on to—or try to get—other political positions.

First of all, the prospect of Jacobs taking on incumbent Congressman Ruppersberger is hardly a solid chance. Ruppersberger’s Baltimore County-based district, while including portions of Harford County, is only minimally changed by redistricting and is majority Democratic. Furthermore, Federal Election Commission records show he has over $414,000 cash on hand in his campaign bank account. He is well known in the district while Jacobs is not and she would have to mount a huge fundraising effort in a very short period of time before the November, 2012 election.

Running for Harford County Executive in 2014, to replace the term-limited David Craig, a Republican who has held the slot for many years, is certainly possible. But Jacobs lost the Harford County portion of her Senate district last year and her county-wide support is in question.

The option of a run for governor in 2014—when incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley is term-limited and cannot run again—is a distinct possibility, but Jacobs would likely face a GOP primary against Craig, who is already campaigning around the state for the Republican nomination for governor, and other possible GOP contenders, including state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36).

Implicit in Jacobs’ announcement is a potential shot-across-the-bow to state Democratic leaders: mess with my Senate District, and I could give your Democratic candidates heartburn on various contests. Leave the district alone, and I’ll step down from Senate GOP leadership and go quietly about my way.

But Jacobs has clearly enjoyed her year in the spotlight as the top Republican in the state Senate and may feel she is ready for a broader political platform.

Meanwhile, the upcoming redistricting of state legislative districts creates some other potential scenarios for shifts in Cecil County representation. Del. Rudolph barely survived in his western Cecil County district 34B in the 2010 election and a re-drawn district, moving eastward to include more heavily Democratic precincts around Elkton, could make his seat more survivable. Such lines could cross into turf now included in the 36th District, where the incumbent Republican, Michael Smigiel, has filed as a candidate for Circuit Court judge in the 2012 election.

The possibility of a Cecil County-only Senate district is also on the horizon, which might entice Rudolph and a host of potential candidates to shoot for the slot. Such a re-drawn Senate district would include portions of the current Jacobs district and the turf now held by Pipkin. Pipkin is widely believed to be exploring statewide office options, such as Comptroller or governor, in 2014 when his Senate seat will be on the ballot as well.

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