Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has established himself as an authority on intelligence issues in Congress, will face a Democratic primary in June from an opponent who has spent his career working in the intel community.
Paul Rundquist, a 25-year-old Gaithersburg resident, works as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy, reviewing Cold War-era documents slated for declassification to make sure they don't contain nuclear secrets. Before that he worked as a contract intelligence analyst for the agency.
Not only does Rundquist have experience on an issue that has caused controversy in the U.S. and abroad recently, he wants to make it a centerpiece of his campaign, he said. Ruppersberger, the six-term Baltimore County lawmaker, is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
"There's an appetite for change in how business is done on that committee and in Congress," said Rundquist. "If we're going to have a national conversation about these issues…it's on Congress to start that conversation."
Rundquist starts out as a considerable underdog. Ruppersberger has never won re-election with less than 64 percent of the vote and has shown his ability to raise significant amounts of campaign cash. If that isn't enough, Rundquist is at a major disadvantage as a non-resident of the district.
But Rundquist, a first-time candidate, is likely to gain some attention from outside of Maryland because of his background and focus on intelligence. The 2nd Congressional District is home to the National Security Agency, which has been at the center of the controversy over domestic data collection.
"I don't think anyone goes to work at the NSA wanting to be a part of '1984,'" Rundquist said, who stressed his concern was with mission creep at the NSA and congressional oversight, not the agency's employees themselves. "The House Intelligence Committee has never attempted to step out in front and start discussions -- they've been reactive."
Part of Rundquist's mission, he said, is simply to prove that someone with a background in intelligence can run for office in the first place -- a more constructive approach, he said, than the one former NSA contractor Edward Snowden took. But that alone could be a difficult task: Much of what Rundquist has to say on the issue publicly has to be reviewed by the government.
Rundquist graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County and is single. Another Democratic candidate, Blaine Taylor, has also filed to run in the Democratic primary, which takes place June 24.
Ruppersberger was the first Democratic freshman to secure a seat on the intel committee and has served as the top-ranking Democrat since 2011. He has been supportive of the nation's spy agencies during the recent controversies but has also called for greater transparency.
"We welcome anyone who enters the race as it is always important to debate the issues important to constituents and to the future of our country," Ruppersberger said in a statement. "I will continue to push for change in Washington and work to put common sense solutions before partisan politics."