Democratic congressional candidate Tony Puca says that one of the many reasons to vote for him in Maryland’s 6th District primary next week is that he doesn’t have his eye on the next job.
“I’m 68. I’m not running for governor, like my opponent,” said the Brooklyn-born Puca, a mortgage loan officer and longtime party activist.
He was referring to two-term Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), widely thought to be interested in unseating Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018.
Delaney, 53, said he’s fully focused on the 6th, although it’s difficult to see the mobile billboard he sent circling the State House last month — calling on Hogan to denounce fellow Republican Donald Trump — as anything other than an early shot across the bow.
“Tony has no idea what I want to do,” Delaney said in a recent interview. “He has no basis for saying anything about what my motivations are, because he doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him at all.”
[Maryland Republicans still eyeing Delaney’s seat]
Puca is challenging Delaney from the left, contending that the moderate business-minded Democrat takes too much money from the corporate sector he’s supposed to be overseeing as a member of the House Committee on Financial Services.
“John isn’t a Democrat,” Puca said. “He doesn’t even belong in office.”
Delaney’s spokesman, Will McDonald, called Puca “misinformed” and said that the congressman has consistently supported protections for consumers and investors, including tougher regulations on brokers who offer financial advice to retirees.
Puca is critical of Delaney’s vote in November to join House Republicans in passing the American Safe Act, which Puca described as a measure “to refuse to accept Syrian and other displaced Muslim refugees into our country.”
The bill called for expanding background checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and requiring the administration to certify that the refugees were properly vetted before allowing them to enter the country.
Delaney said that the bill, which died in the Senate, was grossly politicized by both parties.
“People on both sides of the aisle had a desire to represent that legislation as something it wasn’t,” Delaney said.
Puca said that if elected, he would push the government to prosecute bankers involved in the financial meltdown. He supports single-payer health care and free college education.
He is also the longest of long-shots in the 6th, a gerrymandered marvel that starts in Potomac and stretches nearly 200 miles north through a portion of Frederick County, then west across economically struggling Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties in the Maryland panhandle.
A five-time candidate for Congress and state office, Puca has raised just $2,500 to challenge Delaney, a former health-care financier ranked by Roll Call as the third-wealthiest member of Congress having a minimum net worth of $91.8 million. His latest campaign finance report shows $273,000 cash on hand as of April 6 — bus fare for a candidate who spent $4 million of his own money on his first two races.
Delaney, not surprisingly, has his eye on November. When a reporter mentioned that he’d seen his opponent earlier that day, Delaney asked: “Which one? I have eight of them.”
[Delaney makes transition from financier to congressman]
He was referring to the GOP primary candidates, one of whom he will meet in the fall: Washington County Commissioner Terry Baker; Montgomery Village bioscientist Scott Cheng; lawyer and ballot-measure activist Robin Ficker; defense consultant and former Army deputy undersecretary Amie Hoeber; businessman Frank Howard; former Marine Christopher Mason; Gaithersburg accountant Harold Painter; and Del. David Vogt (R-Frederick).
If Delaney wants to be governor, he’ll need a strong performance in the general election to show that his 2014 near-death experience — when he held off Republican Dan Bongino by just 2,700 votes — stemmed from a weak gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, at the top of the Democratic ticket.
It was a steep drop from the 2012 campaign, when he upended the Democratic establishment favorite, State Sen. Rob Garagiola, in the primary. With boundaries gerrymandered by state Democrats, Delaney handily unseated longtime Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett.
“So in 2012, I learned about a big victory, and in 2014, I learned that every vote counts,” said Delaney, who is taking no chances this time. In 2014, it was mid-July when he opened reelection offices. This year, his Gaithersburg and Hagerstown offices are already on line.
Delaney is running on a legislative record that is more aspirational than concrete. He’s still pursuing the signature proposal he introduced three years ago: allowing corporations to repatriate a portion of their overseas earnings tax-free in exchange for the purchase of bonds to pay for renewing the nation’s infrastructure.
The measure is co-sponsored by 22 Democrats and 19 Republicans. Delaney said he is optimistic about its chances in the next Congress.
He is also hopeful about prospects for his market-based plan to address climate change. The Tax Pollution, Not Profits Act would tax greenhouse gas emissions, using the revenue to lower the corporate tax rate and fund other important needs.
“I think it’s going to become pretty clear, even to the Republican leadership, that they have to do something about climate change,” Delaney said. “The pressure is going to mount, and the facts are going to continue to scream for action.”
Delaney said nothing big comes easily in Congress and that change requires time and patience.
“It takes years of cultivating the soil,” he said. Only the voters will determine if Delaney will be around for the harvest.