State lawmakers hope to ride anti-incumbent wave to Congress

Nearly a half-dozen Maryland state lawmakers are hoping to exploit the nation's anti-incumbent mood with campaigns for Congress that focus heavily on Washington's dysfunction.

Two Republican state senators, David Brinkley of Frederick County and Nancy Jacobs of Harford County, announced plans this week to run for the House of Representatives. A third, Democrat C. Anthony Muse of Prince George's County, is expected to toss his name in for the Senate on Thursday.

They join several others hoping to trade Annapolis for Washington in the November election.

In speeches and interviews, the lawmakers are playing to voter frustration with Congress, highlighting the bickering that has led to repeated showdowns over funding the government, reducing budget deficits and, more recently, extending a payroll tax break for millions of American workers.

"If anybody was going to run for Congress, I'd say this is the year to do it," said Jacobs, who will formally declare her candidacy at an event in Essex on Thursday. Incumbents, she said, "have to remember where they came from. ... You can't turn into Washington."

Public opinion surveys show historically high dissatisfaction with Washington. A Pew Research poll last month found that two-thirds of voters believe that most members of Congress should be voted out — the highest since the center began asking the question 17 years ago.

What's unclear, though, is whether candidates who have served in Annapolis can convince voters of their outsider status, or whether the current anti-incumbent sentiment will stick.

The 2010 election was initially cast with an anti-incumbent theme but turned out to be bad almost exclusively for Democrats, including Frank Kratovil in Maryland who lost his re-election bid in the 1st District. Despite the rhetoric in 2010, 85 percent of lawmakers kept their job.

"Incumbents don't lose because they're incumbents," said David Wasserman, who follows House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. "Incumbents lose when there's a specific argument that ties them to Washington malfeasance … or [shows] they're ideologically out of step with their district."

Brinkley, a financial planner who represents Carroll and Frederick counties, became the second state lawmaker to enter Maryland's 6th Congressional District race on Wednesday. Standing before City Hall in Frederick in frigid weather, he said it was time for 10-term incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett — a fellow Republican — to "pass the congressional baton."

Voters, Brinkley said, "want a representative that really is in touch with what's going on with their pocketbooks, with the economy, with jobs."

The district has been a safe bet for Republicans for years, but it was redrawn as part of the redistricting process in Annapolis last year to be far more competitive. Democrats in Maryland and Washington are hoping the seat will provide the party with an opportunity to knock off an incumbent Republican.

Maryland's panhandle, along with the city of Frederick and Democratic portions of Montgomery County, are part of the district. It no longer includes rural and Republican areas of Baltimore and Harford counties.

State Sen. Rob Garagiola, a Democrat, announced in November that he would seek the 6th District seat and has been aggressively campaigning and fundraising since then. He, too, has sounded anti-incumbent notes, arguing that "this ideological Congress has taken this country to the brink of economic disaster."

Garagiola will face Potomac businessman John Delaney in the state's April 3 primary. Delaney, who formally filed to put his name on the ballot Wednesday, also is attempting to establish his outsider bona fides, promoting his background as a financier. Delaney runs a Chevy Chase bank called CapitalSource.

"People are very frustrated. I think that they have a view that these career politicians think it's about them, as opposed to being about the people," Delaney said in an interview Wednesday. "They want people who view the job as a means of getting things done."

Another Democrat, former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg, dropped out of the race Wednesday, citing a recurrence of cancer.

In a statement, Bartlett did not respond directly to Brinkley or Delaney but vowed to run a "vigorous, well-funded and positive re-election campaign."

Outside the 6th District, most state lawmakers running for Congress will face tough fights, even with an apparent anti-incumbent wind at their back. Because General Assembly seats do not come up for election again until 2014, state lawmakers can run congressional campaigns and keep their positions in Annapolis if they lose.

Del. Anthony O'Donnell, the Republican leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, plans to challenge Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in November. But Hoyer won with 64 percent of the vote in 2010, and his district was not changed significantly last year.

Jacobs, meanwhile, will attempt to take on Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger at a time when the Baltimore County Democrat may be at the peak of his power. He was chosen as the top-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee last year and quickly positioned himself as a national expert on the issue.

Another state lawmaker, Republican Del. Patrick McDonough, has said he is considering a run against Ruppersberger, even though the 2nd District became slightly more safe for Democrats in the redistricting.

In a statement, a Ruppersberger campaign spokeswoman said the congressman "works across the political aisle on the issues that matter the most," such as the economy, and added that he looks forward "to a fair campaign with all of the candidates."