By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is hardly doing any campaigning for the upcoming election in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District. The Democrat says that as long as he keeps "making the tough calls" based on what he thinks is best for the country, getting reelected should be no problem.
"If you do the job you're elected to do, your constituents will vote for you," Ruppersberger, 62, said. "It's not on the rhetoric thrown out at election time."
Ruppersberger has been in office since 2003, after more than 18 years in Baltimore County politics. His challenger, Richard Matthews, is a Libertarian-turned-Republican computer systems engineer who has never run for elected office.
The congressional seat has been passed between Democrats and Republicans for years, although the district's residents currently vote overwhelmingly Democratic. The oddly-shaped district meanders through Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Although Ruppersberger is not doing much traditional campaigning, he has attended community events and held town hall meetings. His calendar remains full, despite having recently undergone a surgery that was supposed to keep him at home for a month. Other appearances are not quite as planned: "Every time I got gas, I had a forum," he jokes.
Ruppersberger is a member of the Appropriations Committee and was the first Democratic freshman to be appointed to the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees intelligence collection and analysis. Based on work with that committee, Ruppersberger said the country needs to immediately reduce its presence in Iraq and instead focus on Afghanistan, which he said offers "safe havens for training terrorists."
Although gas prices and energy were the top issues Ruppersberger heard about from his constituents during the summer, those concerns have since been replaced with fears about the struggling economy and questions about why he voted for the $700 billion financial bailout last month. Ruppersberger prefers the term "rescue plan."
"We were not bailing out big business," Ruppersberger said. "We were saving our country from a serious depression. And, believe me, we have a long way to go."
The vote was not popular with many constituents, and Ruppersberger said several of his colleagues voted against the plan because they worried about reelection. "If all you do is just take a poll before you make a decision, that's not leadership," he said.
Matthews disagrees with Ruppersberger on the bailout, and has recently changed his campaign signs to read "Richard 'No Bailouts' Matthews." He argues that it is "morally repugnant" for the government to spend tax dollars on risky assets, and that such action interferes with the free-market system.
"Since the bailout, I've had a lot more people honk," said Matthews, 28, who spends many mornings and afternoons standing on street corners with a campaign sign. "I don't think [Ruppersberger's] constituents could disagree with him more."
Matthews signed up for the race just before the deadline at the urging of friends who worked with him on Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaign in Maryland. Matthews calls himself a "Ron Paul Republican" and advocates preserving civil liberties, shrinking government, pulling troops out of Iraq, eradicating earmarks and simplifying the tax code, starting with retired military personnel.
"I just can't find someone I more fundamentally disagree with," Matthews said. "I kept hoping someone would run against him. On the next-to-last day to file, no one had, so I signed up."