The television ad is set at a shooting range.
Jordan Colvin, who is identified as a Republican and a former police officer, dons safety glasses and ear protection and takes aim at her paper target. Then her husband – the Democratic nominee in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District – appears.
“Jesse Colvin,” his wife announces in a voiceover. “Army Ranger and, well, a Democrat.”
The TV spot — airing in Baltimore and Salisbury — is emblematic of a U.S. House race that is flipping the usual Maryland script. Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2-1 in the state, but it’s a different world in the 1st District, which is made up of parts of the counties of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford, as well as the Eastern Shore. The district gave Republican President Donald Trump 64 percent of the vote in 2016 and re-elected Andy Harris, the GOP congressman, with 67 percent.
It’s a gerrymandered district “packed full of Republicans,” said St. Mary’s College of Maryland political scientist Todd Eberly, which, he said, helps explain why Jesse Colvin, 34, praises Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and why his TV ad includes text reading “Won’t Vote for Pelosi.” That’s a reference to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is unpopular with Republicans and could become speaker again if Democrats capture a House majority in the Nov. 6 election.
The ad goes on to describe Colvin, who is also shown practicing his shooting skills, as “part of a new generation of leadership.”
The 1st District is among the liveliest — and most unusual — of Maryland’s eight congressional district races. Seven of the incumbents — all except Democratic Rep. John Delaney — are seeking re-election, and most have sizable advantages over their challengers in fund-raising and media exposure.
Delaney, who represents the 6th District, is stepping down as he runs for president in 2020. Vying for his seat are two wealthy candidates — Democrat David Trone and Republican Amie Hoeber — who are making second runs for Congress in the expensive Washington television market. The district stretches from Montgomery County up to Frederick and across Western Maryland.
Harris is seeking his fifth term in the general election (early voting started Thursday). Harris, 61, is an anesthesiologist, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Maryland's only Republican in Congress.
Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, pledged last month to deliver an all-Democratic congressional delegation if he’s elected. Whoever is elected governor in November will oversee the state’s redistricting process after the 2020 census, although the governor’s plan will need the approval of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Jealous told a group of Baltimore County Democrats: “If you like Andy Harris and you want him, times four, vote for Larry Hogan.”
Asked about the comment, Harris said he supports Hogan’s proposal for a nonpartisan panel to redraw the district lines to conform to population shifts.
“It's about time we ended partisan gerrymandering in Maryland," Harris said.
Colvin, who served four combat tours in Afghanistan, uses the slogan “Country before political party.”
He said the contest is “a referendum on Andy Harris,” whom he has criticized over health care and his response to the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Saudi Arabia had maintained the journalist was killed in a fistfight, before acknowledging the killing was planned. Members of Congress have been skeptical of the initial explanation, and many criticized Trump for not responding more forcefully.
Harris has been cautious in his comments.
“On many issues, the media has complained that the president takes action too quickly without considering all the facts. In this case the media is calling for, ‘Ready, fire, aim.’ We don't know all the facts.”
Colvin countered that “you don’t need to speak Arabic and have studied Middle Eastern history to see Jamal Khashoggi’s death for what it is: sanctioned murder. Dr. Harris, who professes a love of rule of law, ought to be speaking truth to power, rather than distracting from the truth.”
Colvin has also accused Harris of failing to stand up for health care protections. “If you have a pre-existing condition, he does not think insurance companies should have to cover you,” Colvin said.
But Harris said: “My position on pre-existing conditions is clear. I believe they should be covered.” Harris voted for 2017 legislation — it did not clear Congress — under which insurance companies would still have covered people with pre-existing conditions, but they could have imposed higher charges. The bill was crafted as a replacement for the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which Harris said was failing.
Harris used his closing arguments in a recent Cecil County debate to make an accusation of his own. He said that Colvin would fail to protect Second Amendment gun rights.
In an interview, Harris said “there couldn't be a more stark contrast between my opponent and me on the issue of the Second Amendment.” Noting his top rating from the National Rifle Association, Harris said: “In the 1st Congressional District, there is a strong tradition of sportsmen hunting, and he runs counter to that strong tradition, and every voter should know that.”
Colvin said he supports “common-sense legislative ideas” such as universal background checks, a ban on bump stocks and “red flag” laws to keep firearms from people considered safety risks.
Colvin’s campaign had raised more than $1.5 million as of Sept. 30. Harris raised $1.4 million, but had nearly twice as much cash on hand as Colvin’s $750,000.
Eberly said the heavily Republican district poses a challenge to any Democrat.
“That just makes it hard for me to see how Harris is knocked off,” the political scientist said.
The most campaign money in a Maryland congressional race was held by Trone, who had $3.2 million on hand after contributing more than $12 million of his own money. Hoeber, his opponent, listed $132,000 remaining.
Federal Election Commission records show Hoeber has accepted well over $1 million from two political action committees, including one in which her husband — Qualcomm Inc. executive Mark Epstein — is a major contributor.
Hoeber was the Republican nominee for the district in 2016; she lost to Delaney by 16 percentage points in a high-turnout presidential election year. Trone finished second in the 2016 Democratic primary in the neighboring 8th District to Jamie Raskin, who went on to win the seat.
Hoeber and Trone both live in the 8th District, but there’s no law preventing them from running in or representing the 6th.
Trone said his priorities include more comprehensive funding to combat the opioid epidemic. His 24-year-old nephew died of a fentanyl overdose a few years ago.
Hoeber, a former Reagan administration official, has done a number of events with Hogan and said she is aligned with him politically. “He’s done some great things for the economy,” she said.
She is less enamored of the president personally.
“I wouldn’t invite him to my home for dinner,” she said.
But Trone said Hoeber is tied to the president. “It's Trump. It’s Hoeber. It's indistinguishable,” he said.
Trone’s campaign said in September that he underwent successful cancer surgery. The surgery followed his Aug. 27 announcement that he had “localized cancer” and had undergone chemotherapy to reduce a tumor in his urinary tract. He said recently that doctors have pronounced him cancer-free.
In other congressional races, the major party candidates are Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings facing Republican challenger Richmond Davis, Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes versus Republican Charles Anthony, Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger against Republican Liz Matory, Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown being challenged by Republican George McDermott, Raskin versus Republican John Walsh, and Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer running against Republican William Devine.
The state Board of Elections lists all candidates on its website: https://elections.maryland.gov.