Redistricting, early voting and the flood of interest from a presidential election year has made March a critical month for candidates vying for positions in Congress, perhaps none as hectic as the 8th Congressional District race.
Carroll County has previous been squarely in the 6th Congressional District, represented by longtime Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.
But redistricting has changed all that, splitting the county between the 1st and 8th Congressional seats. A large of portion of Carroll is in the 8th — along with much of Frederick County and slivers of Montgomery County all the way south to the Washington line.
That change has the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County, scrambling to learn something about the area he'd like to represent after November and has left a field of Republican contenders with high hopes they could snatch the seat to the GOP side.
Both parties have been on the campaign trail. Though he faces little challenge in the April 3 primary — only fellow Montgomery County resident George English is on the ballot — Van Hollen breezed through Westminster and Sykesville March 13 as part of a whirlwind, whistle-stop "listening tour" of Carroll County, courting votes and learning the lay of the land.
In an area he was admittedly unfamiliar with, the Warfield Cultural and Commerce Center in Sykesville, he toured the grounds with former Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman and stated as he gazed at the regal brick buildings and the open spaces beyond, "It's quite a place, isn't it?"
Hot spot for GOP?
Two days later, three Republican candidates vying in the GOP primary were essentially saying the same thing: that Carroll County is quite a place and one that Van Hollen doesn't know well enough to represent.
At a March 15 forum at the Winfield Volunteer Fire Department Hall, presented by the Carroll County Republican Central Committee, Ken Timmerman and Gus Alzona, both from Montgomery County, and Carroll resident Dave Wallace, were the three GOP candidates who spoke and answered questions.
Shelly Skolnick, of Montgomery County, who has also registered as a candidate, was not in attendance.
Green Party candidate George Gluck, also of Montgomery County, introduced himself at the meeting, but did not speak.
Other than Wallace, a South Carroll High School graduate and resident of Finksburg, the GOP primary race is essentially a getting-to-know-you party.
"As a Montgomery County Republican, I feel liberated to be here in Carroll County," Timmerman told the audience.
Timmerman is, by profession, an investigative reporter, author of fiction and non-fiction books and a self-described "international religious freedom guardian." According to his website, the Kensington resident has served as a Middle East correspondent for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications.
He has also served as head of the Maryland Taxpayers Association.
Gus Alzona, a CPA who was born in the Philippines, grew up in the Washington area and now lives in Bethesda.
He said he's running on a platform of "Freedom, Faith, Peace and Prosperity," which includes securing U.S. borders, lowering gas prices and auditing the Federal Reserve System.
Wallace previously worked at the National Institutes of Health and now owns and manages Chesapeake Kitchen Wholesalers, a company in Randallstown.
According to his website, Wallace's issues center on U.S. energy independence, reforming taxes, securing borders and protecting Social Security and Second Amendment rights.
All three candidates were unanimous in their critiques of the administration of President Barack Obama and of their prospective opponent, Van Hollen.
Wallace at one point said the incumbent is "against our civil liberties and opposes our free market," and said he knew Carroll County was not going to "let a man like Van Hollen stand in our way and destroy our liberty."
Wallace promised that if elected, he would "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow conservatives and cut $1 trillion from our national budget" in his first year of office.
All three were critical of Obama's health care initiatives and Timmerman draw applause when he condemned the Environmental Protection Agency for trying to "drive our nation's farmers out of business."
He said the president's health care program has already resulted in the creation of 159 new government agencies and caused medical insurance premiums to go up to the tune of $2,200 per year, per family.
Timmerman similarly excoriated the EPA and theU.S. Department of Energyfor stifling our domestic fossil fuel reserves, which he described as the equivalent of "1.2 trillion barrels of oil ... six times of the Saudi reserves and enough to meet our current domestic consumption for the next 200 years."
He promised that, if elected, he would clean house. "I will assemble the best investigative team we've ever seen in Washington and go after the bad guys," he said.
Alzona, a self-proclaimed Ron Paul disciple on domestic issues, did strike a slightly moderate stance on a few issues He opposes E-Verify and the notion of creating a national identity card for all citizens.
"That just reminds me of the Romans and their census," he added. "It's just something that's not right."
"I do have some differences with my colleagues," Alzona said. "I think my moderate view (on some issues) makes me more electable."
Alzona said if Republicans like himself can get elected in both the 8th District and adjoining 6th District, "we can work together and form a new power base. .... Carroll County will never have to kiss up to Washington or Annapolis again."
Congressman in Carroll
Van Hollen's visit to Carroll included a brisk meet-and-greet that took him to Carroll Community College, Westminster's Main Street and the Carroll Arts Center and Westminster's City Hall. After his hour or so in Sykesville, he was scheduled to take a similar looking and listening tour of Mount Airy.
At Warfield, his guides were Herman and Sykesville resident Carl Livesay, a local business consultant who is actively involved in recruiting tenants for the commerce center.
Warfield and its buildings were originally part of the Springfield Hospital Center, and in light of recent the federal Base Realignment and Closure program, known as BRAC, and in view of Warfield's location, almost midway between federal facilities at Fort Meade and Aberdeen, Herman and Livesay are trying to recruit federal agencies as tenants.
They saw Van Hollen's experience in Congress and his desire to learn the area, as a potential benefit to that effort.
"It's a case of first impressions," Van Hollen said of Warfield, "but I'm happy to look into this."
"I'm just here now to pick up on what the issues are," he said of the overall visit to Carroll. "I'm not officially representing the area yet. I'm just figuring out what the big ideas are, including economic development."