Two Republicans joined seven Democratic candidates in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District at a campaign forum Wednesday night, using the moment to argue that with the House likely to remain under GOP control next year, they would be the better choice for voters.
The two Republicans — one a longtime party activist and the other a recent Democrat and independent — aren’t likely to turn up on Fox News or conservative talk radio. Shelly Skolnick, a Silver Spring lawyer, wants to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 and create a new value-added tax to pay for health care.
He told a small crowd — candidates and staff nearly outnumbered voters — at the Aspen Hill Library in Rockville that electing a Republican to the House from the heavily Democratic district would send ripples through national politics.
“We want to make Congress work again. Let’s elect moderates in both parties, especially in the 8th,” Skolnick said. “It will encourage moderates of both parties through the country to run.”
The other Republican, Liz Matory, is so newly minted that her website still calls her a “post-partisan” independent. She said that as an African American woman, she is best positioned for a seat at the table in a Republican House.
“I’m the only one [of the candidates] who would be a part of the room,” said Matory, a former Democratic Party field organizer.
Two other GOP candidates, Silver Spring financial adviser Aryeh Shudofsky and Bethesda business consultant Gus Alzona, did not attend the forum.
In a district with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration advantage, the Republican winner in the April 26 primary will face steep challenges in the general election.
The already packed Democratic field grew Wednesday when David Trone, a multimillionaire Potomac wine retailer, announced that he would run a largely self-financed campaign. He was not at the forum.
Assuming that he meets Wednesday’s filing deadline, Trone will join state Sen. Jamie Raskin, Dels. Kumar P. Barve and Ana Sol-Gutierrez, former local news anchor and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews, former Obama aide Will Jawando, former State Department official Joel Rubin and nonprofit executive David Anderson in vying for the chance to succeed Democrat Chris Van Hollen, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
All the Democrats said they supported immigration reform, with several specifically favoring the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in 2013. The measure creates a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally, doubles the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents and imposes new requirements for employers to verify the legal status of job applicants.
Skolnick said he supported all provisions except citizenship, favoring only green cards for illegal immigrants unless they “did something unusual like, say, serving in the military.”
With few substantive differences over policy, many of the Democrats made their case by leaning heavily on biography and calls for diversity.
Jawando, the sole African American Democrat in the field, noted that all three congressional incumbents representing portions of Montgomery County — Reps. John Delaney, John Sarbanes and Van Hollen — are white males. While the district stretches from Takoma Park through portions of Frederick and Carroll counties, about 80 percent of its Democrats reside in Montgomery.
“We have three white men for a county that is 52 percent people of color,” said Jawando, a lawyer who lives in Silver Spring. “In the board room diversity matters, in schools it matters, in law enforcement it matters, and it should matter in this race.”
Matthews said she supported a higher minimum wage, gender pay equity, paid family leave and immigration reform. She added that with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski retiring and Democrat Donna F. Edwards relinquishing her House seat to run for the Senate, the Maryland delegation and Congress in general suffer from gender imbalance.
“We need more women in Congress,” Matthews said, noting that 1 in 5 members are women. “I think we have a real opportunity to elect the first Democratic woman in the 8th District.”
Sol-Gutierrez said that with immigration’s prominence as a national issue, her life experience as a Salvadoran American makes her the strongest candidate to push for reforms.
“There’s no one better to do that in Congress,” she said.
Barve touted his business credentials — he’s chief financial officer of an environmental cleanup company — by calling himself “the accountant in the legislature.” He also cited a record of support for renewable energy and economic development.
Barve, the grandson of Indian immigrants, also noted that electing the first Asian American member of Congress in Maryland history would be a nice bit of “icing on the cake.”
Issues raised by the audience at the forum, sponsored by the Aspen Hill Civic Association, included use of tax money for private schools (all were against except Matory, whose position was unclear) and funding for public libraries, not exactly a core federal responsibility, but one that candidates happily jumped on.
Raskin and Jawando pledged to return any overdue books. Rubin drew applause when he said that curbing runaway defense spending could free up money for libraries.
“I am not going to deny my children the ability to take out books from the local public library so that Boeing and other corporate defense contractors can build multibillion-dollar jets that don’t work,” he said.