Democrat Heather Mizeur’s bid to upset Republican U.S. Rep. Andy Harris relies on making inroads in GOP-oriented Harford County, which accounts for 35% of voters in the newly redrawn 1st Congressional District and has demonstrated an independent streak.
The district, which also covers the Eastern Shore and a piece of Baltimore County, is the only one in Maryland where Republican voters outnumber Democrats. That means Mizeur, a former state delegate and 2014 gubernatorial candidate who lives in Kent County, must assemble a bloc of Democrats, unaffiliated voters and moderate Republicans in her long shot challenge to Harris, whom she has sought to label a “traitor” for trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Harford has twice as many voters as any other county in the district and is central to her effort. Its district footprint grew significantly for the Nov. 8 election as part of the redistricting process that occurs every 10 years following the U.S. census.
About 16% of Harford’s voters are not affiliated with a political party, a higher percentage than most other counties in the state.
“We do see Harford County as a key to our success — it’s by far the largest county in the district,” said Noah Habenstreit, Mizeur’s campaign manager. “Harford County is full of pragmatic, independent-minded voters who vote based on the person, not the political party.”
Harris, 65, who lives in Dorchester County, is seeking his seventh term after promising in 2010 — a year when term limits were popular — to serve no more than six.
Like Harris, Maryland’s incumbent Democratic congressmen are seeking re-election — except for Anthony Brown in the 4th District, who is running for state attorney general. In the Baltimore area, 7th District Rep. Kweisi Mfume faces Republican Scott M. Collier, 3rd District Rep. John Sarbanes is being challenged by Republican Yuripzy Morgan, and Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is opposed by Republican Nicolee Ambrose in the 2nd District.
The Cook Political Report and other political forecasters only rate one U.S. House contest in Maryland as competitive: the 6th District in Western Maryland, in which Democratic Rep. David Trone is currently slightly favored over Republican state Del. Neil Parrott.
Harris, an anesthesiologist who is the only Republican in Maryland’s 10-man congressional delegation, has routinely topped 60% of the vote in his previous reelection campaigns. He beat former Army intelligence officer Jesse Colvin in 2018, and Mia Mason, a military veteran and transgender activist, in 2020.
Former President Donald Trump, a Republican embraced by Harris, won the district by 20 points in 2020.
At that time, Republicans accounted for about 46% of voters in the district, compared to 34% for the Democrats.
According to the latest Maryland State Board of Elections figures, which are from the July primary, that GOP advantage has been trimmed to less than 9 points following redistricting, in which district maps were redrawn last spring by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly to conform to population changes. Advance voter registration closed Tuesday, and the current numbers aren’t yet available.
While the additional Democrats could help Mizeur, Harris “still has the prima-facie advantage,” said University of Baltimore professor John Willis, secretary of state in the administration of Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.
“So the Democratic campaign will really have to target and motivate,” Willis said. “You can narrow that differential based on turnout.”
Mizeur, 49, is hoping for a sizable turnout of abortion rights supporters motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the case that had made abortion a constitutional right.
A Harris campaign spokesperson declined Friday to answer questions about election issues or its strategy, telling The Baltimore Sun only: “We’re feeling confident.”
Harris’ social media posts have focused less on Mizeur than on criticism of Democratic President Joe Biden over inflation and other issues known to be among voters’ top current concerns, such as crime.
Mizeur has sought to promote a finding of the congressional Jan. 6 committee in July that Harris was among nearly a dozen Republican members who gathered with Trump in December 2020 and discussed having Vice President Mike Pence reject the results of the presidential election.
Harris did not respond directly to requests for comment this summer when his attendance at that meeting became public. He instead said in a July 12 statement that he was “busy working on important issues like bringing down the price of gas and groceries and securing our communities against violent crime.”
Willis said Mizeur could potentially find fertile ground in southern Harford County. That piece of the county, which includes the Aberdeen Proving Ground, was long represented by Ruppersberger. The Democratic congressman advocated for the Army post and fared well in the county during elections.
Under redistricting, the 1st Congressional District took over all of Harford, starting with this election.
“People there had been voting for Dutch,” Willis said.
Overall, Harford is 45% Republican and 37% percent Democrat, with the rest not affiliated with either party, according to the state elections board.
“The Route 40 corridor — Aberdeen, Edgewood, Joppa — you’re probably going to find more Democrats in that area,” said Carol Bruce, chairperson of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee. “The northern part of the county is the Republican part.”
Mizeur’s biggest fundraiser to date was in the county: a benefit concert by rocker Melissa Etheridge on Oct. 8 at STAR Centre in Havre de Grace. The campaign has declined to say how much was raised; candidates must file Oct. 27 with the Federal Election Commission their reports covering Oct. 1-19.
Mizeur has bought ads this fall on the four main television stations in the Baltimore market, which includes Harford, while Harris has not, according to reports the stations file with the Federal Communications Commission. Both candidates have bought airtime on the two major stations in Salisbury, on the Eastern Shore.
She’s been active in advertising on social media, as well, since May 2021, according to records kept by the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, while Harris for Congress only this month bought an ad there. It focuses on the economy and taxes.
When it comes to fundraising, Mizeur, who does not accept contributions from corporate political action committees, reported raising more than $542,000 in the three months ending Sept. 30. That was more than any recent challengers to Harris accumulated during the same period in earlier years.
Harris netted more than $245,000 in contributions during the most recent 2022 quarter and had $1.5 million on hand, according to his report to the Federal Election Commission.
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Mizeur had $854,000 left, according to her report.
Mizeur and other congressional challengers have complained that the incumbents are ducking debates. Harris’ and Mizeur’s only scheduled debate is Wednesday at Cecil College. They will be joined by Daniel Thibeault, a Libertarian Party candidate.
Morgan, Sarbanes’ challenger in the 3rd District, said it is hypocritical of Sarbanes not to debate.
“They’re the party pushing this concern about democracy,” said Morgan, a lawyer and former WBAL-AM political talk show host.
Sarbanes told The Sun in reply that he has agreed to participate in various forums.
“As with every election cycle, my campaign includes participation in candidate forums and community discussions where my opponent and I can share our views on how best to serve the voters,” he said.
The district includes Howard County and parts of Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.