Things haven't gone quite according to plan in the newly redrawn 6th Congressional District. Maryland's leading Democrats figured they had drawn new boundaries that would allow a rising star in the state Senate to move up to Congress. Republicans figured that the incumbent, 85-year-old Roscoe Bartlett, would retire rather than face a tough race, leaving the door open for new candidates. But the Democrats didn't figure on John Delaney, 48, a financier who swamped the anointed favorite, Sen. Rob Garagiola, in the fundraising race and again at the polls. And Congressman Bartlett turned out to have more fire in the belly than his intra-party rivals had guessed; he easily bested a crowded field of challengers, including two sitting legislators.
What we have now is a contest between a political newcomer and a Republican fighting for his 11th term in Congress. In a national election in which Democrats will battle to regain some of the seats they lost in 2010, this district, which runs from westernmost Maryland almost all the way to theWashington, D.C., border, is likely to be the focus of considerable attention. The voting patterns of the newly redrawn district make it possible for a Democrat to win, but it is no sure thing.
There are some similarities in the personal stories of Messrs. Bartlett and Delaney. Both are self-made millionaires (Mr. Bartlett made his money as a scientist and inventor, Mr. Delaney as a banker) and both came to politics after long careers in the private sector. Mr. Delaney was not the favorite of party insiders in Maryland — virtually all of them endorsed Mr. Garagiola, though he did get the support of former President Bill Clinton. And Mr. Bartlett has always cut his own path within the Republican Party — so much so that he was passed over for a committee chairmanship despite his seniority.
But the two candidates' politics are quite different. Mr. Delaney emphasizes progressive values, including higher taxes on the rich and support for President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Mr. Bartlett is a member of the Tea Party caucus who will emphasize lower spending and lower taxes.
The peculiarity of this district is that it divides almost neatly in half between conservative Western Maryland and liberal Montgomery County. The result was that the parties' primaries played out in almost entirely separate worlds. Now the question will be which candidate will be able to pick up the most support in his opponent's geographic base. With the economy is still foremost in voters' minds, Mr. Delaney can tout his business credentials — he is, after all, one of those "job creators" that Republicans in Congress like to talk about. And Mr. Bartlett can point to some ways in which he departs from party orthodoxy. He has pushed for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and is well to his party's left on the war in Afghanistan. He is also a strong opponent of the GOP's "drill, baby, drill" energy policy and claims to have been the first member of Congress to buy a Prius.
At a time when gerrymandering has rendered the vast majority of Congressional districts uncompetitive and politically monolithic, Messrs. Bartlett and Delaney give voters in Maryland's 6th something rare and precious: a real choice.