WASHINGTON — — With little competition at home, lawmakers from Maryland are traveling farther down the campaign trail this year to influence the midterm elections.
Members of the state's congressional delegation have popped up in North Carolina, California and Virginia in recent weeks to stump for colleagues in the closely fought races that will determine which party controls the Senate in January — and those that will likely set the political tone in Washington for the final two years of Barack Obama's presidency.
The far-flung campaigning is made possible by the state's sleepy congressional contests this year. Few of Maryland's incumbents face experienced, well-financed challengers, and none are expected to lose.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings — the Baltimore Democrat who won his ninth full term in 2012 with nearly 77 percent of the vote — spoke at an event in North Carolina last month to energize black voters for Sen. Kay Hagan, who is locked in one of the nation's most contested races.
"In states like North Carolina and Louisiana, as well as Maryland, African-American voters have the power to make the outcome a good one for all Americans," Cummings said. "I will make that case wherever my voice is needed."
Cummings will face Republican Corrogan R. Vaughn in November. The Baltimore County man captured 179 votes in his write-in bid for governor four years ago and came in eighth in the GOP Senate primary in 2012.
Rep. Steny Hoyer rose to his position as No. 2 Democrat in the House more than a decade ago largely on his cross-country campaigning and fundraising for his colleagues. This month alone, the Southern Maryland lawmaker has traveled on behalf of 10 candidates from California to North Carolina.
Hoyer headlined a fundraiser last week for Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat in a competitive race near Sacramento.
"Clearly, when a leader of the Democratic Party is in town, it's a draw for potential donors," Garamendi said. "We had a successful event."
Four days later, Hoyer was campaigning with Democrat John Lewis, who is running for the open at-large House seat in Montana.
Hoyer, who is both the longest-serving and highest-ranking House member in state history, won re-election with more than 69 percent of the vote in 2012. His challenger this year is Republican Chris Chaffee, who lost the GOP primary for the seat four years ago.
Republicans, hoping to capitalize on Obama's low approval ratings, are angling to pick up the six seats they need to control the Senate for the first time since 2006. In addition to Hagan, Democrats are defending at-risk incumbents in Louisiana, Arkansas and Alaska, and trying to hold on to open seats in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota.
In the House, independent analysts predict the GOP may gain a handful of new members.
Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said visits from out-of-state lawmakers can have an impact on a close contest. When a nationally prominent lawmaker such as Hoyer or Cummings shows up, it sends a signal to donors, volunteers and voters that the party takes the candidate seriously.
"It shows that the party cares enough to send some big names, whether or not voters know who they are," Norris said.
Trips also build goodwill and loyalty for the lawmaker who does the traveling. Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is considering a run for president in 2016, has been campaigning for candidates in other states ahead of the midterm elections and is now dispatching political staff to Iowa and New Hampshire.
But out-of-state jaunts can also open lawmakers up to attacks that they're not paying enough attention to their districts.
Aides to Hoyer and Cummings stressed that the lawmakers attend far more events at home than they do out of state. A Hoyer aide provided a list of appearances in Maryland that eclipsed the lawmaker's travel on behalf of others.
Any such criticism is unlikely to have an impact in Maryland, where powerful and generally popular incumbents represent districts in which their party dominates. That is particularly true after the redrawing of congressional district boundaries in 2011, which were designed by O'Malley and the Democratic General Assembly to give their party seven of the state's eight House seats.
It's not only Democrats who are traveling to help their out-of-state colleagues. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland's only Republican in Congress, has visited Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Iowa this year. Harris, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, is running to lead the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative House members.
"Congressman Harris travels because it is critical that Republicans maintain and grow the majority in the House so that Congressman Harris can deliver on issues important to the 1st District," said an aide, Chris Meekins, speaking before the unexpected death of the congressman's wife on Thursday.
Like aides to Cummings and Hoyer, Meekins pointed to a lengthy schedule of events and fundraisers Harris has attended in Maryland.
The newest member of the state's congressional delegation, Rep. John Delaney, is also trying to influence out-of-state races. The Montgomery County Democrat is set to travel next month to Virginia to campaign with John W. Foust, a Democrat running to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Back home in November, Delaney will face Republican Dan Bongino, one of a few challengers in the state who is raising money and running an aggressive campaign for Congress. But Bongino, the former Secret Service agent who challenged Sen. Ben Cardin in 2012, has an uphill race in the 6th Congressional District, which was redrawn in 2011 to favor the Democratic candidate.
With the real battle this year being for control of the Senate, aides to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Cardin, both Democrats, said the lawmakers will likely step up their efforts on behalf of others in October.
Neither faces re-election this year.
"I am confident that there are enough Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the Capitol who want to work together on important issues, but an extreme element in the House has been pulling their leadership away from any reasonable discussions and compromises," Cardin said in a statement.
"If the Republicans hold the House of Representatives, it would be essential that Democrats maintain a majority in the Senate."