Republican primary voters in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District have a choice between a staunch conservative and four candidates closer to the center — including an African American woman who was a Democrat a year ago and an independent until February.

The GOP last held this seat in 2002, when moderate Rep. Connie Morella was voted out of office after eight terms, the victim of gerrymandering by the state’s Democratic governor and legislature. The Democrat who beat her, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is running for the Senate, creating a rare open seat.

Another round of redistricting in 2010 put a few more Republicans in the 8th, which is shaped like a mushroom cloud that originates at the southern end of Montgomery County and rises north before spreading through parts of Carroll and Frederick counties to the Pennsylvania border.

But the numbers remain daunting for whoever wins on April 26: Democrats maintain a 2-to-1 registration advantage in the general election. Any GOP path to victory would have to include a message that appeals the district’s 100,000 independents.

Here are the contenders:

Dan Cox

A Frederick County attorney, Cox, 41, is the most conservative of the five GOP hopefuls. He supports Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the presidential race and subscribes to Cruz’s “Five for Freedom” plan, which includes abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and the departments of Energy, Education, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development.

Like Cruz, Cox said that if elected, he would move to scrap Obamacare, which “is wreaking havoc on Republicans, Democrats and independents alike,” he said.

Cox also advocates eliminating payroll taxes and establishing a 10 percent flat tax for incomes over $36,000.

“As a small-business man, I really see the importance of making sure that we grow jobs, and the key to that is small business as well as lowering taxation for everybody,” he said.

On immigration, Cox supports the full enforcement of existing laws and passage of Kate’s Law, which would establish mandatory minimum five-year prison sentences for any immigrant convicted of reentering the country after being deported. The bill is named for a San Francisco woman who was killed, allegedly by a previously deported immigrant.

Cox, who was raised in Taneytown in Carroll County, said his political roots go back to campaigning with his parents for Ronald Reagan in 1980. A graduate of the University of Maryland and Regent University School of Law, he worked for 1996 Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes and as an aide to former U.S. House member Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) He opposes abortion rights.

Cox also served as president the Town Commission in Secretary, Md., a town of 500 in Dorchester County. He lives in Cascade, Md.

Republican candidate Jeff Jones, second from left, greets other candidates before a forum. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)
Jeffrey Jones

Jones, 64, is senior pastor at North Bethesda United Methodist Church and a first-time candidate who believes that he is best suited to bring “a calming influence” to a Congress paralyzed by partisan strife.

“The squabbling, to me, sounds more like the couples who come to get some help,” he said.

Jones, who likes to say “we’re all immigrants,” is the only GOP candidate in the 8th who favors a path to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. He also rejects Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigrants.

“Muslims and the Koran speak very highly of peace and cooperation and working together, and it’s a real disservice and prejudice to think everyone is lumped in with radicals,” he said. “That’s like saying Christians who handle snakes are the way all Christians behave.”

Jones, who supports abortion rights, said that if elected to Congress, his top priorities would be improving the nation’s education system and a large­­­-scale infrastructure project to generate jobs by repairing roads and bridges.

Born in Baltimore, he spent his childhood in Congo and Belgium with his missionary parents before moving to Montgomery for middle and high school. Jones has an undergraduate degree in sociology from Western Maryland College (now called McDaniel College) and attended seminary at Emory University.

His 40 years of pastoring throughout the region, he said, gives him a unique insight into people’s needs.

“I’ve done the weddings, I’ve done funerals and participated in the lives of folks,” he said.

He supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich for the Republican presidential nomination.

Republican candidate Liz Matory, standing, speaks during a debate for the 8th Congressional District seat. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
Liz Matory

Matory, 36, co-founder of a business consulting firm, completed an unusual transition over the past year. She initially entered the congressional race as an independent after leaving the Democratic Party in the summer of 2015. She said her departure was driven by the injustice of gerrymandering and her belief that, for years, blacks and women had been taken for granted by the party.

As an African American woman, Matory had never seriously considered becoming a Republican. But conversations with GOP voters left her believing that there was more common ground than she thought. In February, she decided that the quickest and boldest way to make a difference was with the GOP.

“Let’s face it. The House will stay in Republican hands,” she blogged on her campaign site. “Do we need another Democrat debating from [the] fringes or do we need a congresswoman who has the courage to unite us by joining the conversation?”

Matory, a graduate of Howard Law School who holds an MBA from the University of Maryland, said decades of Democratic orthodoxy have done nothing to help the poor.

She opposes abortion rights and supports economic policies that cut taxes and regulation. Matory would work to end “crony capitalism,” which she describes as the corrupting influence of lobbyists, PACs and other special interests.

Matory, whose Filipino mother immigrated to the United States legally, does not support citizenship for the undocumented. “It negates and devalues every single immigrant who came here legally,” she said. Nor does she favor deportation. The solution, she said “does not currently exist.”

She also supports Kasich in the presidential race and says she rejects the Republicanism embodied by Trump.

Matory was born in the District, the daughter of two surgeons at Howard University Hospital. She grew up in Montgomery and attended Sidwell Friends School, then Columbia University. She lives in Silver Spring.

Aryeh Shudofsky, Republican candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 8th District. (Courtesy of Aryeh Shudofsky)
Aryeh Shudofsky

At 35, Shudofsky is the youngest candidate in the Republican field. A former aide to Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) who previously worked as a financial analyst, he now is a consultant to CRTV, or Conservative Review TV, a political media company.

He said he wants to return to Capitol Hill because members of Congress are “so mired in partisan bickering that they’ve lost sight of what the electorate is actually looking for.”

Shudofsky promotes “common-sense solutions” to create jobs, such as a simplified tax code and tax credits for start-up businesses. To help low-income working Americans find their footing, he would incorporate earned income tax credit payments into paychecks instead of delivering the credit as an annual lump sum. He also wants to see U.S. schools require financial literacy courses for all students.

“We need to foster economic growth,” said Shudofsky, who ran unsuccessfully for Montgomery’s Board of Education in 2012.

Support for Israel is a major part of Shudofsky’s message. In addition to bolstering Israel’s military defenses, he said the United States needs to be more supportive in often-unfriendly venues, such as the United Nations.

Shudofsky opposes any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants but supports allowing them to “come out of the shadows” and requiring them to pay taxes to support public services, including school systems. He opposes abortion rights.

Shudofsky was born in Tea­neck, N.J., and grew up in a Democratic family, the son of educators. He received a degree in finance from Yeshiva University. He lives in Silver Spring.

Republican candidate Shelly Skolnick during a debate for the Maryland 8th Congressional District seat. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)
Shelly Skolnick

Skolnick, 72, a Silver Spring lawyer, lost bids for the District 8 Republican nomination in 2012 and for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council in 2014.

His platform is the most detailed and the least traditionally Republican. Skolnick favors raising the gas tax 1 cent per month for a year and then 1 percent annually to pay for highway repairs.

To cut the cost of health insurance, he would replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act by expanding Medicare Part A (hospitalization) to all citizens, financed by a new value-added tax.

Skolnick proposes revamping the tax system for fairness and simplicity, establishing five brackets from 5 to 25 percent for individuals and businesses while eliminating the capital gains tax and other special tax rates for different kinds of income.

To cut college debt, Skolnick wants to convert Pell Grants into “Shell Grants” of up to $10,000 a year to students who volunteer as first responders or school tutors or aides.

“I think I can move moderates and liberals toward my candidacy with creative, practical solutions,” he said.

Skolnick favors “a pathway to green cards,” not citizenship, for undocumented immigrants. One exception: those who volunteer for the military.

On abortion, he describes himself as “pro-status quo.”

Skolnick, who was born in Suffern, N.Y., and raised in Montvale, N.J., received a BA in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a law degree from Boston University. He lives in Silver Spring.