Maryland’s next statewide elections are three years out, so the political atmosphere at Maryland Association of Counties summer convention this year was expected to be chill.
But that seemed to fall by the bayside during a Q&A with U.S. Sen Benjamin L. Cardin (D) on Friday.
While Cardin had some strong statements about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and President Trump, attendees made reference to “Moscow Mitch” in questions and urged support for his Democratic challenger.
It was an unusually partisan tone for Cardin’s MACo town halls, which usually focus on local issues and problem-solving.
When asked what he was doing to “stop” McConnell – to a smattering of enthusiastic applause from the crowd – Cardin responded: “Supporting a lot of Democratic candidates next year.”
He said McConnell has flouted Senate rules to squash debate and kill bills – and has been enabled by other Senate Republicans.
“I do worry that we’ve seen bad practices over a longer period of time, so we really do need leaders to step up to bring the Senate back to its traditional way,” Cardin said.
He then noted that McConnell is up for reelection next year.
“I try not to get to partisan here, but sometimes it’s difficult …” Cardin trailed off.
But then there was another question, in which an attendee referred to McConnell as “Moscow Mitch.” After Cardin responded to concerns about McConnell’s push to lift sanctions against Russia as a Kremlin-linked aluminum company sought a large project in his home state, another attendee stood up and urged people to donate to McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath.
Cardin was asked about the Democratic presidential primary from an attendee who was concerned that the current primary system “more or less allowed the activists from both parties to decide who the rest of us will vote for in November.”
The person asked Cardin whether primaries should be open or whether partisan gerrymandering should be ended to allow more moderate points of view in high-stakes races.
Cardin said the Electoral College should cease to decide presidential elections outside of the national popular vote and that campaign finance reforms are needed.
“We’re stuck with a lot of this,” he said.
He called partisan gerrymandering “one of the great problems in our democracy,” but told the crowd not to blame Maryland’s legislature for the state’s widely criticized map favoring Democrats.
“Most of the states that are doing the gerrymandering are Republican-controlled states. And it’s hard to do unilateral disarmament,” Cardin said. “…We can’t be that naïve.”
Cardin said he thinks both parties are going to have to take a national look at modernizing politics.
“I think the American people are starting to lose confidence in both of the parties as being too extreme,” he said. “..I think the party that can figure out how to appeal to moderates is the party that will be most successful in the long-term.”
There were moments of levity as well.
When an attendee suggested they don’t need to lobby Cardin because they agree with his views on certain issues and asked who they should contact instead, Cardin responded that they should still write him.
“It can get lonely in Washington, so please write,” he said.
The senator also encouraged the crowd to “stay focused on the issues” and not Trump’s tweets in a rapid-fire news cycle. He also suggested they “turn off cable.”
“Unless I’m on, it doesn’t matter,” he said to laughter.