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Voters' Answers: 4. Change On Eastern Shore?

Question #4: Was it his party affiliation or his political positions that kept Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in office for so long in Maryland's 1st District (Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel County)?

Voters aren't sending a clear message on this one. With the race between Democrat Frank Kratovil and Republican Andy Harris so close as to provoke a recount, it's too soon to say if Kratovil's paper-thin lead will hold up.

Gilchrest, the nine-term incumbent who was one of the last of the vaguely liberal Republicans left in Congress, lost his seat in the GOP primary to conservative Harris, a state senator. Gilchrest then turned around and endorsed the Democrat, Kratovil, a local prosecutor.

Clearly, Eastern Shore residents part ways with the national Republican party on some important issues, the environment and development among them. But the district is certainly conservative on fiscal and tax matters, and on gun rights and some other values issues as well.

Gilchrest fell victim to the primary system that has evolved into a polarizing machine for both parties. Candidates that did exceedingly well in general elections, like Gilchrest and other moderate Republicans in this region, found it increasingly difficult to tack back to their party faithful's more polarized comfort zone when those officeholders faced primary competition. The fact that most Americans, and certainly most voters in Maryland's First District, tend more toward the center becomes almost immaterial when primary elections are fought closer to the ideological edges.

By Marc Fisher |  November 5, 2008; 12:40 PM ET
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