The candidates running for Maryland's two open House seats have operated mostly out of view so far, building campaigns and raising money in the shadow of the state's high-profile race for Senate.
That's about to change.
As they turn toward the post-holiday stretch, when more voters will begin tuning in, several top candidates in Maryland's 4th and 8th Congressional Districts are preparing to ramp up their advertising and presence on the trail.
The shift represents not only a natural course adjustment as the April 26 primary election nears, but also a recognition that the upcoming session of the General Assembly will have implications for both races. At least five state lawmakers — including two committee chairmen — are running for Congress this year.
"Once we get through the holiday season, things will really heat up in earnest," said Del. Dereck E. Davis of Prince George's County, the Democratic chair of the House Economic Matters Committee and a candidate in the 4th Congressional District.
"I'll have to work harder, but it's a great opportunity to show voters [how I] work with other people … to get an agenda done."
The 8th District, now represented by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, is based in Montgomery County, but it meanders up into Fredierck and Carroll counties as well.
Eighteen major party candidates — 14 Democrats and four Republicans — have filed to run for one of the two seats. The districts are open next year because the incumbents — Democrats Edwards and Van Hollen — are running to replace retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
With crowded fields and no public polling, handicapping the races is difficult. In the 8th District, state Sen. Jamie Raskin and former WJLA-TV anchor Kathleen Matthews have raised significantly more money than any of the other contenders, and are widely viewed as front runners.
Matthews, most recently an executive at Bethesda-based Marriott International, has touted her business background while pointing out she would bring a women's perspective to issues such as equal pay and paid family leave. She is married to MSNBC personality Chris Matthews, which has brought extra attention to her campaign from Washington media outlets.
"This is going to be an issues-based campaign," said Matthews, who has rolled out two position papers so far, on gun control and women's issues. "I think where we differ is on the set of experiences we bring to this."
Matthews, 62, said she feels "uniquely well suited" given her experience covering the region as a journalist and her time with one of its largest employers.
Raskin, elected to the Senate in 2006, has also pushed his background, noting the role he played on major state legislation including the 2012 legalization of same sex marriage. Raskin, who has substantial activist support in the district, describes himself as a "relentless effective progressive legislator."
"The first part of the campaign has been a contest for the most active and engaged Democrat voters and activists," said Raskin, 53. "Now we're going out to the next level of people who are just starting to tune in."
Del. Ana Sol-Gutierrez, former Obama administration officials Will Jawando and Joel Rubin and an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, David M. Anderson, are also running for the seat.
The contest in the 4th District has so far received less attention than the one in the 8th, and less money. Still, the campaign of former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown is one of the most compelling political stories in Maryland this year. Brown, who unexpectedly lost his bid for governor to Republican Larry Hogan last year, is looking to make a comeback.
Brown, and other candidates, have been appearing regularly at community events and small house parties and knocking on doors. But there has been only one candidate forum in the 4th Disrtrict to date, and little in the way of advertising.
"It's my hope we'll see more [candidate forums] during the spring, when voters are paying more attention," said Brown, 54.
Brown faces competition from former Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who is also well known in the district and has led the field in fundraising.
Ivey, 54, has been endorsed by Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and several state lawmakers in the district. .
Ivey said he does not anticipate a major shift in strategy in coming weeks.
"We're going to continue doing what we've been doing," he said. "I've got a record, and voters know who I am."
Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk of Prince George's County has also been working the race hard. Peña-Melnyk, 49, has raised slightly more than Brown, and has picked up endorsements from national progressive groups such as Democracy for America and Emily's List.
"I don't get the attention others get," Peña-Melnyk. "It's okay because the voters know me."
Former county councilwoman Ingrid M. Turner, as well as Howard University professor Alvin Thornton, former candidate Warren Christopher, Lisa R. Ransom and Terence Strait are also running for the seat.
Republicans, meanwhile, will have a difficult path in both districts, which partly explains why so few have stepped forward. The GOP captured 39 percent of the vote in the 8th District in 2014 — a low-turnout year when the GOP made gains nationwide — and less than 30 percent in the 4th.
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Yet several interesting Republican candidates have chosen to take on incumbents, including in the 6th District, where Rep. John Delaney won reelection to a second term in 2014 by only 1.5 percentage points.
Given the higher Democratic turnout expected for the presidential election it's not clear whether the GOP can repeat that performance.
But first-term Del. David E. Vogt III of Frederick County and former Army deputy undersecretary Amie Hoeber are giving it a try. Hoeber, who worked in the Reagan administration, has the means to invest some of her own money in the race, just as Delaney has done.
"After all the years of the Democratic administrations in Maryland, the economy needs a lot of fixing," said Hoeber, 74. "I think I can bring together the right coalition of voters."