Democrat Anthony G. Brown dislikes describing his landslide election to Congress on Tuesday as redemption.
While he captured a seat in the House of Representatives on a shoestring campaign budget after being defeated in stunning fashion in the race for Maryland governor two years ago, Brown says "redemption" implies he needed to prove himself or atone for his political loss.
Instead, he says he just wants to serve the public, and that sometimes people fail before they succeed.
"You get knocked down, you pick yourself up," he said.
Supporters in Maryland's 4th Congressional District say that attitude humanized Brown. He won 74 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic swath that stretches through Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
In contrast, Brown lost the governor's race to Republican Larry Hogan after spending a record amount of money in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. It was only the second time in a half-century that Marylanders elected a Republican governor.
"It speaks to the diligence and the resiliency of someone whose heart is there for the people," said Charis Jones, a 30-year-old performer from Temple Hills. She live-streamed her interaction with Brown at a Fort Washington meeting last month, praising him for being willing to run for office again.
Brown will be in the Democratic minority in the House. Both chambers of Congress will be controlled by Republicans for the next two years.
The former lieutenant governor, Harvard-educated lawyer and Army veteran said he hopes to prove himself as a "workhorse, not a show horse" and build an extensive constituent service operation.
The 2014 loss, however, continues to dog him, and voters and journalists often ask how it feels to be on the winning side of an election. He knows some people describe his loss as "humiliating," but he said, "I stay away from the adjectives and the adverbs, and I stick to the facts."
"The facts are we lost in 2014. No one sets out to lose," Brown said. "But I do think that in this loss, it has drawn me closer to the people I represent. … I think they appreciate that I took it in stride because that's what people do every single day."
Brown shed the high-dollar, insulated and tightly controlled campaign style of his gubernatorial race for a more freewheeling congressional bid. He did all of his own publicity and knocked on doors personally, without an entourage.
He won a hard-fought six-way Democratic primary this past spring. And though he was heavily favored to win this week, he still spent eight to 12 hours a day, every day, outside early-voting centers in his district, perched on a kitchen stool and leaving nothing to chance.
"In some respects, it's like he actually won by losing," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College. "I always thought he was better as a legislator than as an executive. I think he has found something that is actually better suited to his talents and to his interests in politics."
The smaller and more intimate campaign, Eberly said, played up Brown's personality. He was often perceived as wooden and distant when he ran for governor.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski passes the baton to Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)
"He's a very engaging person to speak with one-on-one, and that never came across in that gubernatorial campaign," Eberly said.
And though Brown says he's not seeking redemption, it's a narrative that Eberly believes resonated with voters.
"Everybody likes to believe that you can be knocked down by life and you can still build yourself back up," he said. "It's in some ways a quintessential American story."
Some of Brown's supporters are still upset the rest of the state didn't get behind him in 2014.
"Can we redo the governor's race?" Charles Smith, 59, asked Brown on Tuesday outside a Prince George's County polling precinct. "You're the only one I'm voting for today."
Smith said he liked Brown in 2014, but he now admires him. "He wouldn't let anything defeat him. It's a test of fortitude, and that's a great character trait to have."
At the Tuesday night victory party he shared with Democrats Jamie Raskin, who was elected to Maryland's 8th Congressional District, and Chris Van Hollen, who was elected to the Senate, Brown took the stage and thanked his "small but mighty" campaign operation.
But first, he soaked in the moment.
"It's great to be back, yes indeed," he said. "Yes, indeed."