March 10, 2012

A POLITICAL FREE-FOR-ALL is under way in Maryland’s gerrymandered 6th Congressional District, redrawn last year by Democrats seeking to oust 20-year Republican incumbent Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett. Five Democrats and eight Republicans, including the 85-year-old Mr. Bartlett, are competing in party primaries set for April 3. The November winner will represent a district that sprawls from the West Virginia border to the Capital Beltway, taking in a big chunk of northwestern Montgomery County.

We make no endorsement in the Republican primary, but the choice in the Democratic race is obvious. The contest boils down to two candidates from Montgomery: J ohn Delaney , a self-made businessman and first-time candidate, and state Sen. Rob Garagiola, an Annapolis insider with deep ties to the capital’s lobbyists and power brokers. Of the pair, Mr. Delaney would be by far the more independent-minded congressman and probably the more effective one, too.

Mr. Delaney’s experience is in short supply among elected Democrats. An electrician’s son, he graduated from Georgetown University’s law school, then went on to found two massively successful finance companies; the one he currently leads, CapitalSource, based in Chevy Chase, employs more than 1,000 people.

Though a political novice, Mr. Delaney is bright, energetic and admired in the corporate world. He credibly stresses the importance of infrastructure investment to cultivate private-sector growth — a critical need in a region whose reliance on federal spending makes it vulnerable to government cuts.

Mr. Delaney favors higher taxes on capital gains, so that rich investors don’t pay a lower rate than middle-class earners. But he’d also be more likely to seek a balanced approach to deficit reduction through entitlement reform. Mr. Garagiola is mostly indifferent to deficits.

Mr. Garagiola, in a decade in the State Senate, has displayed a knack for the all-Democratic inside game in Annapolis. He’s a top lieutenant to the legislature’s ultimate power player, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

A lawyer who has done some lobbying — which he failed to disclose — Mr. Garagiola is widely regarded as in thrall to Maryland’s lobbyists, who have bankrolled his campaign. He’s sponsored legislation pushed by banks, utilities, unions and other special interests. Two years ago he played a key role in enacting legislation, pushed by labor that weakens localities’ bargaining leverage and could force them to accept teacher contracts they can’t afford. Not exactly a taxpayer-friendly law.

Mr. Garagiola is astute; he’s also a bit of an operator. He backed a gas tax hike for highway construction last year, then abandoned it this year as he prepared his race for Congress. For several years he kept his distance from same-sex marriage, then jumped on the bandwagon when the political winds shifted. He likes being on the winning side. Fine. But quite a few of his colleagues wonder whether his compass points in any direction other than “Power.”