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6th District Dems square off on Iran, ethics

The Democratic congressional candidates in Maryland's 6th District largely agree on major issues facing the country: They all favor immigration reform, more infrastructure spending to help boost the economy and a woman's right to have an abortion.

But despite broadly similar positions, a few subtle differences emerged at a forum in Gaithersburg on Sunday, where several hundred voters turned out to hear the five candidates speak. They offered different answers on how to handle Iran, for instance, and what should be done to address ethical lapses in Washington.

The district, currently held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, is expected to be among the most competitive races in the country in the general election this November. Bartlett is seeking an 11th term. The primary is April 3.

"I feel that our country is...adrift right now," said state Sen. Rob Garagiola, a leading candidate in the Democratic race. Bartlett, he said, "is part of the problem."

All of the candidates at the forum, which was organized by several area Democratic clubs, said they support the Obama administration's emphasis on sanctions to deal with Iran. But they differed when pressed to explain when U.S. military intervention would be appropriate.

Garagiola said he would support military strikes if Iran was "on the verge of having nuclear weapons capability." Businessman John Delaney said the decision of whether to involve the U.S. military would depend on the circumstances at the time. "Military options are on the table...but you cannot answer when the line is drawn because you don't know the specific facts."

Milad Pooran, a physician who emigrated from Iran when he was six years old, said he would support military action if Iran struck the U.S. or its allies first. Attorney Ron Little said he would back military action if the Ahmadinejad regime was prepared to use nuclear weapons. Charles Bailey said the military could rely on unmanned drones to take out the country's nuclear facilities.

On ethics, most of the candidates said they support pending legislation in Congress to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks in industries they oversee. In a nod to anger over the redistricting process that made the 6th District a competitive seat, Garagiola said he would support nonpartisan redistricting commissions rather than allowing state legislatures to draw political boundaries. Delaney reiterated his support for term limits.

Term limits, he said, would mean "a higher percentage of people in Congress [would be] focused on making decisions from the heart based on objective evidence and not entirely focused on their reelections."

Most of the candidates argued for raising capital gains taxes so that those who earn money from the market pay rates that are similar to other forms of income. Garagiola said he would support a more progressive capital gains tax that would offer a lower rate for middle class families. Delaney supports a lower capital gains tax rate for people investing in small businesses.

The tone of the forum, like others before it, was friendly and policy focused, even though Garagiola and Delaney have been locked in an increasingly negative battle over their backgrounds. That fight has largely played out in campaign literature and press releases.

"Over the last eight weeks, this primary has gotten a bit nasty," Pooran noted in his closing remarks.

"The most important thing we have to understand is that the Republicans know everything about every single one of us up on this stage," he said. "If you think it's nasty now, it's gonna get rougher."

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