A generational shift within the Maryland Republican Party picked up steam Tuesday as a veteran GOP senator called an end to her legislative career and a conservative favorite launched an audacious challenge to an incumbent Democratic congressman.
State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, one of Maryland's longest-serving Republican lawmakers, said she will not seek re-election in 2014 — adding to the attrition of the GOP's small band of senators in Annapolis.
Jacobs, 61, who represents Harford and Cecil counties, said she wants to spend more time with her husband, Bruce, and her family. She said she plans to serve out the rest of her term.
Meanwhile, Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent turned Republican activist, set his sights on taking back Maryland's 6th District congressional seat for the GOP. Bongino, 38, who announced his candidacy at an American Legion post in Frederick, is attempting to oust Democratic U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Montgomery County.
The 6th District, which includes Western Maryland, was a longtime GOP stronghold before the state's majority Democrats redrew the district lines to include a sizable part of liberal-leaning Montgomery County. In 2012 Delaney took advantage of the district's new Democratic tilt to easily beat Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.
In Bongino, Republicans would have a far different candidate than the octogenarian Bartlett, who lost to Delaney by more than 20 percentage points. The 2014 challenger, who could still face opposition in the Republican primary, is a youthful and dynamic speaker with a passionate following built during his unsuccessful 2012 campaign against Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
More than 100 enthusiasts turned out for Bongino's announcement, and cheered as he called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and its replacement with a system that offers more personal choice.
He also drew a hard line on immigration, saying he would oppose the comprehensive reform measure being considered in Congress.
"It's an amnesty bill first," Bongino said. He said that while he knows the United States can't deport 12 million people, he doesn't believe in giving breaks to those who are here illegally.
"If you come here illegally, folks, there has to be a penalty," he said. "A law has to have teeth."
Asked about the abortion issue, Bongino said he opposes abortion with an exception for rape and incest. "Having two daughters, it would be very hard for me to have to tell them their decision" in such a case, he said.
He vowed to cut the Democrats' 7-1 margin in the Maryland delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. (Rep. Andy Harris of Baltimore County is the lone Republican.)
"This is not a 7-1 state," Bongino said.
A Severna Park resident, Bongino was asked how he could represent a district in which he does not live. He countered that Delaney also lives outside the 6th District.
"An accident of geography should not preclude someone who really cares," he said. Members of Congress, who are paid $174,000 a year, are not required by law to live in their districts.
Delaney spokesman Will McDonald said the congressman's Potomac residence falls outside the district by about 500 feet. He said Delaney would have no comment on Bongino's challenge.
"He's really focused on his work in Congress," McDonald said.
Jacobs' retirement means that at least one-quarter of the 12-member Republican caucus in the 47-member state Senate will leave after their current terms. Sen. Barry Glassman is seeking election as Harford County executive, while Sen. Allan H. Kittleman is doing the same in Howard County.
Jacobs, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1994 and the Senate in 1998, is an outspoken conservative who nonetheless has found ways to work with the Democratic leadership to pass significant legislation on children's issues and crime. During this spring's debate over Gov. Martin O'Malley's firearms legislation, she was a passionate opponent, earning admiration in defeat from gun rights advocates across the state.
Jacobs served as minority whip in 2009 and 2010 and as minority leader in 2011.
Like Bongino, Jacobs sought election to Congress in 2012. She won the Republican nomination for the 2nd District seat but was easily defeated by incumbent Democratic Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Jacobs said her decision has nothing to do with the frustration of being in a minority that is routinely stymied by the large Democratic majority. "The last eight years have not been a pleasant experience for Republicans, but I'm a fighter, not a quitter," she said.
She said it was a strictly personal decision that was influenced by her husband's struggle with cancer in recent years. "He's been my biggest cheerleader, and now it's time for me to take a step back," she said.
Jacobs' retirement could create an opportunity for Democrats to pick up the redistricted 34th District Senate seat. Though Jacobs expressed confidence that she could have won with the newly drawn lines, she said the district could be difficult for Republicans to hold.
"I think it's going to hard for a Republican who has not held office and who is not well known in this area," she said.
While the Republican Party has not enjoyed much success in beating Democrats in statewide or legislative elections in recent years, the party has seen a gradual influx of younger office-holders who have won intra-party battles over their elders. In 2010, Christopher B. Shank, now 40, knocked off five-term Washington County Sen. Donald Munson in the primary. In April, Del. Nicholas Kipke, 34, of Anne Arundel County ousted 52-year-old Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell of Calvert County as minority leader..
In another development in Republican politics, Harford County Executive David R. Craig announced that two Ehrlich administration veterans will play key roles in his 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
Paul Ellington, former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and a former executive director of the state party, will serve as campaign manager. Jim Pettit, a homeland security official under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. who most recently worked for the advocacy group Change Maryland, will be the campaign's communications director.
Craig was among the Republicans who turned out to cheer Bongino, who until recently was contemplating his own bid for governor. He said Bongino had made the right decision in choosing the 6th District House race because of his interest in federal issues.
"I think he has a good shot," Craig said.