Two attack ads are running on television in the contest between Democratic Rep. John Delaney and Republican challenger Amie Hoeber, the first negative ads of the general election season to hit the state's airwaves.
A super PAC supporting Hoeber that is funded almost entirely by her husband began airing an ad last week criticizing Delaney's business record.
Delaney, who is running for a third term representing Maryland's 6th Congressional District, quickly responded with an ad painting Hoeber as an extremist.
The speed with which Delaney went negative is something of a surprise, given that he is widely considered the favorite in November. Both candidates are wealthy and have shown a willingness to invest large sums of cash in the contest.
The advertising battle follows a formal complaint Delaney lodged against the Hoeber campaign over the super PAC, called Maryland USA. Delaney argues that allowing Hoeber's husband to donate large sums to the group violates rules that prohibit a super PAC from coordinating directly with a candidate.
Maryland's 6th Congressional District — which stretches from the Washington suburbs of Montgomery County into Western Maryland — had one of the closest results in the nation in 2014. Delaney wound up winning re-election by fewer than 3,000 votes.
Conventional wisdom holds that Delaney will benefit this November from the larger turnout of Democratic voters expected in a presidential election year. But Hoeber was endorsed by Gov. Larry Hogan — who polls show is among the most popular governors in the nation — and will have more to spend than past GOP competititors for the seat.
Both ads started running on television in the pricey Washington media market last week.
Delaney's ad claims Hoeber is "an extreme tea party partisan" and "the last thing Washington needs." To support the assertion, his campaign points to a tea party scholarship dinner Hoeber attended in May and remarks she made during a debate that she wanted to reduce the size of the Departments of Agriculture and Education.
Delaney may not agree with those positions, but reducing the size of federal agencies is hardly a fringe issue for the GOP. Many Republicans have called for eliminating the Education Department entirely. Hoeber was criticized by some Republicans during the GOP primary this year for not being conservative enough.
The ad then claims Hoeber "will defund Planned Parenthood," based on an answer she gave during a primary debate in March.
Asked if she would deny federal funding to the organization, which provides health care services such as cancer screenings as well as abortions, Hoeber answered with a hedge: "probably," according to reports at the time.
The other GOP candidates were resolute in their opposition to the group.
In what is perhaps the only new criticism leveled by either ad, Delaney then accuses Hoeber, a former deputy undersecretary of the Army, of fighting "for a global increase of chemical weapons." The campaign points to a 36-year-old quote Hoeber gave to PBS in which she advocated building up chemical weapons stockpiles as a deterrence against the Soviet Union.
"Since chemical weapons are used only against countries that lack the capability themselves, the spread of chemical weapons, in theory, will deter the use of such weapons," Hoeber told a reporter in another quote — this one from 1989 — cited by the Delaney campaign.
The super PAC ad that attacks Delaney is notable in part because it provides no citations to back up its claims, leaving viewers to guess at their genesis. Officials with Maryland USA did not respond to a request to provide those citations.
The group, funded almost exclusively by Hoeber's husband, reported spending $755,940 on the ad in a Federal Election Commission filing on Friday. Hoeber is married to Mark Epstein, a senior vice president at telecommunications giant Qualcomm,
"John Delaney's not changing Washington," the ad's narrator warns. "In business, Delaney financed companies that foreclosed on homeowners and provided poor care to seniors."
The claim will be familiar to those who follow state politics: During the 2012 Democratic primary, then-state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola used the same attack against Delaney.
Delaney founded a bank called CapitalSource in 2000 and led it as CEO for nearly a decade. CapitalSource, under Delaney's leadership, lent money in 2009 to a separate firm, Aeon Financial, that purchases tax liens and initiated hundreds of foreclosures, including many in the Baltimore region.
Aeon Financial executives have said publicly that CapitalSource was not involved in initiating any of the foreclosures and independent analysts have said it is unfair to blame CapitalSource for Aeon's actions.
Criticism over the nursing homes was leveled against Delaney in an ad during the 2012 general election by Republican incumbent Rep. Roscoe C. Bartlett. The claim centers on a company temporarily owned by CapitalSource after it could no longer pay its creditors in 2008 that was dinged by Medicare inspectors.
CapitalSource did not manage the nursing homes.
Maryland USA also criticizes Delaney for supporting "tax breaks for corporate profits overseas," which is ostensibly a reference to legislation he has supported that would allow companies to repatriate overseas profits at a lower tax rate.
It is generally liberal Democrats and labor unions who have been most critical of that idea, which has been more widely embraced by Republicans opposed to the nation's corporate tax rate.