By virtue of money in the bank, state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin and former WJLA anchor Kathleen Matthews are the clear front-runners in the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat.
And with front-runnerhood comes increased scrutiny and attacks by opponents.
That was the case at the first candidate forum of the primary season Wednesday night. Matthews, who according to campaign finance reports raised about $500,000 in the first month of her candidacy, was called out as “a millionaire white woman” by independent Liz Matory, who also accused Matthews of lacking support from people of color.
Raskin, who has raised a little over $550,000, was assailed by fellow candidate and state Del. Kumar P. Barve for making a campaign contribution to a state Senate colleague who does not share all of his liberal agenda.
Four other Democrats are in the hunt for the nomination to represent District 8, which stretches from Takoma Park to the Pennsylvania line, taking in parts of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties.
Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, Barve, former Obama administration official Will Jawando and nonprofit executive David Anderson are all pursuing the seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
All four lag far behind Matthews and Raskin in money raised for a race that experts estimate will require $1 million to $3 million in support.
Wednesday’s inaugural forum in Silver Spring, the crunchy heart of the 8th, was sponsored by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. For an hour or so, it ticked along predictably.
Each candidate pledged personal and political commitment to rolling back climate change, promising to champion clean energy, protect the Chesapeake Bay, create green jobs and strengthen economic incentives for reducing emissions.
Raskin (D-Montgomery), a resident of greener-than-thou Takoma Park, quipped that he and his family “sort our garbage into 36 different categories.”
During a segment in which candidates put questions to each other, however, tensions surfaced.
Matthews, who was endorsed last week by a half-dozen current and former female members of Congress, asked Matory whether she thought it was important to have “a woman or a person of diversity, a minority” in the 8th District seat.
Matory said she wouldn’t want anyone to vote for her simply because she is a black woman. She then questioned Matthews’s ability “as a millionaire white woman” to attract broad support in diverse Montgomery County. Matory also said, without giving specifics, that she had heard Matthews was “having difficulty with quote-unquote ethnic support.”
As her husband, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, watched from the audience, Matthews pushed back, asserting that her support “comes from across every ethnic group that we have represented in this country and this county.”
Barve (D-Montgomery), chief financial officer for a Rockville environmental firm that disposes hazardous waste, hammered Raskin for a $500 campaign contribution in 2014 to state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s).
Muse opposed Maryland’s legalization of same-sex marriage, which Raskin championed, and he was accused of anti-Semitism in his 2012 U.S. Senate primary campaign against Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. He faced a 2014 primary challenge from Del. Veronica Turner (D-Prince George’s), who had heavy support from unions and groups such as the League of Conservation Voters.
“I want you, senator, to explain to this group of environmentalists . . . why you made a personal donation to this candidate?” Barve said.
Raskin scoffed at the significance of the contribution and noted that he gave the money to Muse only after he won the June 24 Democratic primary. Campaign finance records show that the $500 check was received June 26.
“Is it really that late in the campaign that we have to get that silly and that demagogic?” he asked.
Thursday’s early-morning forum in Rockville, which did not include Matory, was quieter. Candidates told the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors that they would protect the mortgage-interest deduction and fight for Metro funding.
Asked to explain how they differed from each other, the contenders placed themselves in different contexts.
Anderson, an author and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, called himself a “center-left progressive” and stressed the importance of working with likely Republican majorities in Congress. Matthews said her experience as a journalist, working mother and Marriott executive made her a “powerful advocate” for the middle class.
Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), a Clinton-era Transportation Department appointee, stressed her Hispanic identity and the importance of having an immigrant voice in the House. “We cannot let Donald Trump be the voice of what it is to be an American,” she said.
Barve, the first Indian American elected to serve in a state legislature in the United States, said he was “a staunch but practical liberal.” Raskin, a professor of constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law, described himself as a progressive and the author of more than 100 bills that became law during his time in Annapolis.
Jawando, a former White House and Education Department aide in the Obama administration, cited his experience working in the executive branch and growing up in a more violent Silver Spring in the 1980s.