From Westminster to Ocean City, thousands of Marylanders represented by Andy Harris in the House of Representatives have gained health insurance under the federal law that Harris voted Thursday to repeal. My count, based on records furnished by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, is at least 120,000.
And that number does not include Harris' constituents in Baltimore County, because only portions of that jurisdiction lie within his 1st Congressional District. For the sake of this examination, if we add just a third of the people insured under the Affordable Care Act in Baltimore County, then the total for the 1st District would be something like 145,000.
That's roughly 20 percent of the people Harris represents in a district that runs from Carroll County across northeastern Maryland to the Eastern Shore.
That percentage grows considerably if you include everyone who already had health insurance, who benefited immediately from some of the ACA's provisions, and who stood to benefit down the road as the number of uninsured fell. In some of the 13 counties Harris represents, the number of people without health insurance dropped by 9 percent or 10 percent since the ACA rolled out. In Somerset County, the poorest jurisdiction in Maryland, the percentage of uninsured fell from 18 percent to 7 percent.
That's something to be hailed, not derailed.
But Harris has voted consistently to repeal the ACA. And the other day, he went a step further and voted for Trumpcare, not so much a reform of Obamacare but a contemptible retreat from this country's laudable, if flawed, attempt to provide health insurance for those who could not afford it. The new law, if passed by the Senate, could cost millions of people, including those in Harris' district, their insurance.
Why a guy — and a doctor, no less — repeatedly bad-mouthed and voted against something that benefited so many of his constituents is something Harris should have to answer for. But will he?
Harris, a Republican, has won four consecutive elections. And look at these 1st District numbers from the Maryland State Board of Elections: 222,660 registered Republicans, 175,692 Democrats, 87,944 independents, and 7,435 of other affiliations. So, unless Democrats get fired up and convince independents to join them in a revolt, Harris has the edge; the district map was drawn that way.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party officials haven't shown the slightest interest in mounting a serious challenge to Harris. (They are such softies, they probably feel guilty and greedy for having gerrymandered the congressional districts to give themselves a 7-1 advantage in the House.)
And even now, with Harris voting for Trumpcare, the realists tell me his seat is still safe, despite that rocky town hall he hosted at Chesapeake College in late March. (Allison Galbraith, a 34-year-old Democrat and business owner from Harford County, intends to oppose Harris. More about her in another column.)
"The numbers are very strong in his favor, but that was before the sleeping giants were awakened by the 2016 results," says Heather Mizeur, the former state delegate and candidate for governor in 2014. "I was at the Harris town hall a few weeks ago and was blown away by the [hundreds of] people there who were legitimately fired up and fed up. I think he is vulnerable to the right challenger."
But there's a big but.
"The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is still very old-school, and won't post cash for races with numbers like the 1st District shows on paper," says Mizeur. "So it will take a candidate that can raise cash on his or her own, and/or fire up the grassroots base."
Melissa Deckman, chair of the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown, says Harris, a pro-life member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, will maintain many advantages in the 2018 midterm elections, starting with the Democratic Party's lack of interest in flipping the 1st.
"You have to remember," she says, "that voters often prioritize things other than economic issues. For instance, pro-life voters are more likely than pro-choice voters to consider abortion in their voting calculus. And partisanship continues to color voters' perceptions about everything these days.
"Plus, midterm electorates are more white, conservative and older, which tends to help the GOP."
So will Trumpcare outrage have any consequence in the 1st District? Hard to see it right now. Aside from his voter advantage, what Harris has going for him seems to be a baffling gap between his record and how his constituents vote.
Deckman calls it "the disconnect between what many people vote for and what is actually happening to them personally."
She noted recent research showing that many people who voted for Donald Trump believed Hillary Clinton's policies would be worse for them than Trump's. That includes, of course, Trump's pledge to repeal and replace the ACA over Clinton's pledge to keep it and fix it.