An open seat in Maryland’s most competitive congressional district has attracted a broad field of Democrats and Republicans for this month’s primaries.
The politically diverse Sixth District stretches from the liberal Washington suburbs of Montgomery County to conservative Western Maryland. Democratic Rep. John Delaney won the district by less than two percentage points in the last midterm election, in 2014. Now Delaney is stepping down to run for president in 2020, and 14 candidates have filed to run in the primaries June 26.
“What makes the 6th so interesting is that it’s the remaining district [in Maryland] that could possibly be competitive,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “There aren’t a lot of competitive seats — and seven out of eight are already held by Democrats.”
The eight Democrats and four Republicans include at least three candidates who have run for Congress before. Amie Hoeber was the Republican nominee for the district in 2016; she lost to Delaney by 16 percentage points in a high-turnout presidential election year.
Andrew Duck was the Democratic nominee in 2006 and 2010; he lost to then-Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. David Trone finished second in the 2016 Democratic primary in the neighboring Eighth District to eventual Rep. Jamie Raskin.
Hoeber and Trone live in the Eighth District, but there’s no law preventing them from running in or representing the Sixth. Each spent millions of dollars on their 2016 bids. With that kind of spending in the pricey Washington media market, the Sixth District race could again be one of the most expensive in the nation.
The Sixth was once a Republican stronghold; the conservative Bartlett represented the district for 20 years. Democrats in Annapolis redrew the boundaries after the 2010 Census to turn the district from red to blue, and Delaney defeated Bartlett by 20 percentage points in the next election. Now Democrats outnumber Republicans 4 to 3, and national analysts are rating it a safe Democrat seat in November.
Still, midterm elections tend to draw fewer voters, and the electorate tends to be older, whiter and wealthier — demographics that favor Republicans.
Contenders in the Democratic primary include Trone, the co-founder of Total Wine & More, who spent about $14 million in his 2016 bid; state Sen. Roger Manno, a former congressional aide; state Del. Aruna Miller, a transportation engineer; Dr. Nadia Hashimi, a pediatrician; and Duck, an Army veteran.
Former aerospace executive Christopher Hearsey, businessman Chris Graves and retired economist George English are also on the Democratic ballot.
The Republican candidates include Hoeber, a former Reagan administration official; nurse practitioner Lisa Lloyd; businessman Kurt Elsasser; and real estate executive Brad Rohrs.
There is also a Libertarian Party candidate, Kevin Caldwell, a former Army sergeant and political newcomer; a Green Party candidate, software consultant George Gluck; and an unaffiliated candidate, electrical contractor Ted Athey.
Trone’s wealth makes him a wild card. He reported contributing $5.2 million of his own money to his campaign through March 31. He raised about $354,000.
Trone said his money allows him to be independent of special interests.
“We’re not taking any PAC money, we’re not taking any lobbyists’ money,” he said. “The part that gets missed is we are the underdog. Career politicians, they have tremendous name recognition. They’ve never met a payroll. They’ve never dealt with human resources challenges and marketing."
Miller, first elected to the state House from Montgomery County in 2010, took issue with Trone’s message.
“Mr. Trone claims he doesn’t take money from PACs,” he said. “He is a PAC.”
Trone has contributed to Democratic organizations and candidates around the sprawling district.
“David Trone adds an interesting wrinkle,” Kromer said. She called his resources “an anomaly. How that plays depends on the ability of the other candidates to tell that story in a way that highlights a potentially negative aspect of that.”
Trone and Hoeber said voters don’t care that they don’t live in the district. Both live near the district in Montgomery County, as does Delaney.
“What they’re looking for is the best person,” Trone said. “They’re not looking for a zip code.”
Congressional candidates are not required to live in the district they represent.
Hoeber reported raising $245,000 through March 31. Maryland USA, a super PAC funded largely by Hoeber's husband, Mark Epstein, invested about $3.2 million in her 2016 race.
Super PACs may raise and spend unlimited funds, but they are barred from coordinating directly with a campaign. Critics questioned whether an entity funded by a candidate’s spouse could remain independent of her campaign for Congress.
“There never was any coordination,” Hoeber said. She said she didn’t know if Maryland USA would be contributing to her campaign this year.
Hoeber said she identifies with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is seeking re-election in November.
“I think he's done a superb job for four years and I think the state is in much better shape,” she said. “I consider myself a moderate Republican: Sufficiently independent indeed that I’m not an automatic partisan.”
The crowded Democratic field has been mostly civil.
“We don’t spend a single dollar attacking our opponents,” Trone said. “We need to bring civility and decency to politics.”
During a recent debate in Potomac, the Democrats reserved most of their criticism for President Donald Trump and his policies on immigration, opioid abuse and other issues.
Trone’s 24-year-old nephew died of a fentanyl overdose a few years ago. He called the opiod epidemic “the most important issue facing the country today — 74,000 people died last year.”
The debate was so polite that candidates often applauded each other’s responses.
Miller and Manno sought to distinguish themselves through their legislative experience.
“I’ve tried to be a leader, not just somebody who says the right things and votes the right way,” said Manno, who was a state delegate for four years before he was elected to the Senate in 2010.
Miller, who immigrated with her family from India when she was young, has been targeted early by Republicans.
The state GOP has criticized her on Facebook and elsewhere for allegedly being soft on criminals. The party cited her support for a House measure to bar state and local police officers from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status. The bill did not pass.
“Republicans seem to be more focused on knocking her off, which suggest they view her as the greater threat,” said Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College.
The Sixth District includes Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties in Western Maryland and parts of Montgomery and Frederick counties.
“It’s a district in many ways that predisposes itself to being polarized,” Eberly said. “You’ve got the heavily Republican and conservative western part and the far more Democratic southeastern part.
“The parties know where their votes are.”