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Four of the Republican candidates for the 7th Congressional District (l-r) Ray Bly, Liz Matory, Reba Hawkins and Kim Klacik take part Tuesday in a Maryland Young Republicans forum at the Woodlawn branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.
Four of the Republican candidates for the 7th Congressional District (l-r) Ray Bly, Liz Matory, Reba Hawkins and Kim Klacik take part Tuesday in a Maryland Young Republicans forum at the Woodlawn branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Third in a series of articles on candidates for the 7th Congressional District.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 4 to 1 in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, but that hasn’t stopped Republicans from lining up to run for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Eight Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination in a Feb. 4 special primary for the seat left vacant by the October death of Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. They say they are eager to bring their ideas to the district that includes parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County.

“The nature of it being an open seat is a huge thing,” said Liz Matory, who was the 2018 Republican nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger.

The 39-year-old Parkville-Carney resident is now seeking the 7th District office. She describes herself as a “pro-life conservative Christian” and says her pastor urged her to run after Cummings died. A former Democratic party field organizer, she now runs the Liberty Lives Media publishing company and wrote a book called “Born Again Republican.” If elected, she said, her priority would be fighting human trafficking. She’s also focusing on economic and immigration issues.

Given the voter breakdown, it would be exceedingly difficult for a Republican to win the general election, said Donald F. Norris, professor emeritus of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. A Republican has never won the seat.

“Why people run in situations like that has always been a question I ask,” Norris said. “The only time something like that makes sense is if the opposing candidate is so toxic that even hardcore partisans won’t vote for them."

According to state Board of Elections data as of this month, Democrats make up nearly 68% of the more than 500,000 voters in the district, while Republicans make up about 16%. The rest are unaffiliated or belong to other parties.

“It’s interesting that the Republicans see this as an opportunity for them," said Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs.

“It may be that some Republicans are thinking that, given some of the district is urban and some is suburban and rural, it’s one of those things where they may feel like they could ride the coattails of [Republican Gov. Larry] Hogan and get a moderate Republican elected,” he said. “Maybe, just maybe, they could come in and surprise in this district, though it’s heavily Democrat.”

Kimberly Klacik, a Middle River resident who runs a nonprofit called Potential Me focused on workforce development for disadvantaged women, acknowledged the climate is “tough” for Republicans. But she said her platform — including a goal to “deregulate birth control” — is resonating with voters.

Klacik may have the highest name recognition in the race. That’s after her tweets and Fox News appearance about trash and blight in West Baltimore — calling out the location as part of Cummings’ district — got the attention of Republican President Donald Trump in July. He then attacked Cummings, the district, the city of Baltimore and its other leaders on Twitter and in remarks over the next week.

Klacik said during that week that she hadn’t wanted the trash situation “to become a political mess," but instead wanted city officials to address the area’s poor condition.

While Klacik now has more than 110,000 followers on Twitter, she said she’s working on reaching out to voters “one on one,” too.

Among her priorities would be to make oral contraceptives available over the counter to increase women’s access to the medication.

"Why not support women wanting to do that?” said Klacik, 38, whose other top issues include supporting Trump’s economic revitalization agenda, encouraging homeownership and improving oversight of federal dollars. Trump alleged last summer that “billions of dollars” sent to Baltimore have been “stolen or wasted”; he has offered no evidence.

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Neither Klacik nor Matory lives in the district, but both said they would move there if elected.

Community activist Reba A. Hawkins, another candidate, said Baltimore has suffered "decades of neglect.” Hawkins, 50, lives in North Baltimore’s Mid-Govans neighborhood and owns a janitorial cleaning service.

“We’re going to make Baltimore great again,” said Hawkins, paraphrasing the Trump slogan.

Hawkins said she cares about a host of issues: doing more to prevent lead poisoning, improving youth programming and job opportunities, fighting corruption, and encouraging “community-style policing.”

Hawkins supports raising the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $15 and said the district needs “somebody who is compassionate about the city."

James C. Arnold, 53, said his top issue is safety and security. The Clarksville resident is also focusing his “very grassroots” campaign on topics that include redevelopment of distressed areas, veterans, and making housing and health care more affordable.

With his brothers, Arnold owns a Catonsville-based company that provides plumbing, remodeling, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning services.

“I am a total outsider,” Arnold said. "We’ve got to have elected officials who are accountable to the constituents who put them in office.”

Christopher M. Anderson of Mondawmin called opioid addiction the district’s most pressing problem.

“I live in West Baltimore and I see the opioid crisis every day; I see the murder rate; I see the crime," said Anderson, 50, a closed-circuit TV technician. “It seems like the resources are just not trickling down to the people that so desperately need them."

Candidate William Newton, who is second vice chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, describes himself on his website as a “Real Constitutional Conservative.” He declined to be interviewed for this article.

In his answers to The Baltimore Sun’s questionnaire for its voter guide, Newton said he is running to “seek solutions to inequality and systemic injustice, defend our Constitution, our people’s rights and be on the side of Truth and Integrity in governance.”

Court records show Newton pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor embezzlement charge. He was sentenced to five years of probation. Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe said Newton was charged with misappropriation by a fiduciary after improperly transferring his mother’s property to his girlfriend. Through his attorney, Kurt Roper, Newton declined to comment on the case.

Candidate Ray Bly, who owns Ray’s Used Appliances, was charged in 1986 with child abuse and a fourth-degree sex offense, according to court records. The 70-year-old Jessup resident said in a phone interview that he was wrongfully convicted and he is running to reform the criminal justice system. He supports “Medicare for all” and said he wants "to improve conditions for all people, especially the working class.”

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Bly does not live in the district and said he has no plans to move.

No phone number or campaign website is listed with the Maryland Board of Elections for candidate Brian L. Brown. He did not respond to The Sun’s candidate questionnaire.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

Coming Friday: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings

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