Governor's race
Andrew, Gaithersburg: Is picking an African-American as his running mate the only way Gov. Ehrlich can win re-election?

Nitkin: Democrats Doug Duncan and Martin O'Malley are almost required to select African-American running mates (O'Malley has done so already) after Republican Ehrlich chose Michael S. Steele four years ago and won. Because he has already shown a willingness to reach out to minorities, and because Steele is running for Senate, Ehrlich has flexibility in whom he selects as a partner next year; it need not be an African-American, although he is said to be considering black, Hispanic and female candidates. Ehrlich's chances for re-election rest on how voters judge his record in office, however, not his running mate.

Fred, Ocean City: Is Michael Steele a traitor to Gov. Ehrlich by leaving him to run for Senate, and in turn leaving Ehrlich few, if any, promising African-American running mates?

Nitkin: As I said above, the governor need not select another African-American as a running mate. Steele is not a traitor. He and the governor spoke repeatedly about Steele's Senate candidacy, and both seem to have agreed that it is the best political choice for the lieutenant governor. It would have been hard for Ehrlich to nix Steele's candidacy, however, given the desires of Republican National Committee Chairman and Maryland native Ken Mehlman, Karl Rove, Sen. Elizabeth Dole and other national players urging Steele to get in the race.

Jake, Dundalk: Will Doug Duncan invite Comptroller William Donald Schaefer to be his running mate?

Nitkin: No. At 84, Schaefer looks likely to end his political career as comptroller. Schaefer has endorsed Duncan, and the two are close. But gubernatorial candidates tend to use their running mate selections to generate excitement and bring fresh blood to a state race; Schaefer is viewed as part of the old guard.

Senate race
Olin, Washington County: Is it too late for any other Republican, other than Michael Steele, to win the Republican primary for the open Senate seat?

Nitkin: It's not too late, but it's unlikely. Despite Ehrlich's 2002 victory, the Republican bench remains pretty thin, and Steele has tremendous name recognition and is viewed favorably by a majority of voters. Outside of Ehrlich himself or perhaps First Lady Kendel Ehrlich, Steele probably could not be defeated in a Republican primary.

Rick, Rockville: Is it too late for Doug Duncan to drop out of the Governor's race and run for the vacant Senate seat?

Nitkin: Rick, thanks to the marvels of the Windows operating system, I can cut and paste the answer I gave in a Q&A that was published on Dec. 5 (with the added bonus that I can't plagiarize myself!) The short answer is: No, it's not too late, but it's highly unlikely.

"As the top elected official in the state's most populous county and a widely respected leader, Duncan would have a real chance to win any race he entered, including U.S. Senate. But his temperament, management skills and style seem more suited to an executive-branch position such as governor, rather than a legislative position such as U.S. senator."

Isiah, Baltimore: Do you think that Mfume should drop out of the Senate race and try to become the Lt. Governor choice for Doug Duncan? Wouldn't this balance the ticket and give some Baltimore-O'Malley votes to the Duncan ticket?

Nitkin: Isiah, you've give me another opportunity to cut and paste. You can't try to become a running mate -- you have to be asked. And those who want it too much often don't get asked.

Here is a response from an earlier Q&A published on Dec. 19: "As a black Baltimore Democrat, Mfume would be an asset to a Duncan ticket -- although he does carry some baggage regarding allegations that surfaced after he left as CEO of the NAACP. But after heading a national civil rights group and serving as a congressman for 10 years, Mfume is unlikely to play second fiddle to anybody, even if he slips behind in the Senate contest."

Michael, Baltimore: Will Cardin's voting this week on the Patriot Act have any impact on his chances for the Senate next year?

Nitkin: Cardin's Democratic challengers will work to make sure that the congressman's Dec. 14 vote has repercussions. Alan Lichtman, an American University history professor and political pundit running for the Senate seat, sent out a news release within hours of the vote that said: