Van Hollen Takes a Minimalist Approach

Rep. Chris Van Hollen has won his last two elections easily.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen has won his last two elections easily. (Freddie Lee - AP)
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By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 8, 2008

As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen is steeped in elections nationwide, raising millions and recruiting candidates in Ohio, New York and California.

Back home in Kensington, there is little evidence of a campaign of his own as Van Hollen seeks a fourth term representing Montgomery County and a sliver of Prince George's County in the heavily Democratic 8th District. He has won with more than 70 percent of the vote in the past two elections.

Less than one week before the Feb. 12 primary, in which he faces two perennial candidates -- Deborah A. Vollmer of Chevy Chase and Lih Young of Rockville -- Van Hollen's campaign Web site did not list a single current endorsement or event or offer an updated platform. He does have two full-time campaign staffers.

Even as Van Hollen seeks to retain the Democratic majority in the House, local elected officials, community activists and federal government workers' unions that represent many of his constituents say his involvement in national politics has not undercut his aggressive approach on district causes.

Between trips to Colorado and Kansas for the campaign committee, Van Hollen has gotten involved in local concerns, such as Glen Echo Park's food service contract, and regional issues, such as governance of the District's Water and Sewer Authority. Van Hollen still gets his hair trimmed at the Kensington Hair Cuttery and attends St. Paul's United Methodist Church most Sundays with his wife, Katherine, and their three children.

If anything, political observers say Van Hollen's ascension in the House Democratic leadership is an asset to the district, enhancing its clout -- and his.

"He's energetic enough to do his job locally and nationally," said Terry Lierman, chief of staff to House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and a former state Democratic Party chairman. "And when he creates friendships with members nationally, that is going to come back to help him locally as they gain seniority and committee assignments."

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett credits Van Hollen with being "extremely attentive and hands-on," securing $2 million to analyze the traffic impact of adding thousands of workers and new patients to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda; $1.5 million for Montgomery College's biotechnology project in Germantown; and more than $500,000 for anti-gang initiatives.

Vollmer, a semi-retired lawyer, is running to the left of Van Hollen on Iraq, saying he has a "mixed record" on war funding. "He can't forget his district. People in this area want us out of Iraq now," she said before a candidates forum this week in Largo.

An early critic of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, Van Hollen defended his vote to authorize spending on U.S. troops.

"As long as our men and women are in the theater of battle, it seems to me we need to make sure that we provide them with the equipment they need to protect themselves," he said during the forum, which was sponsored by the Prince George's County branch of the NAACP.

Young, who lists her occupation as "reformer, advocate, activist," says she should be elected to "promote freedom, justice, peace."

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