Republicans are expecting to pick up a number of congressional seats in Tuesday’s midterm elections. But not one of the seats they consider likely wins is in heavily Democratic Maryland.
All eight of the state’s congressional incumbents — seven Democrats and a Republican — are running for reelection. According to the highly regarded Cook Political Report, each incumbent is heavily favored to win, buoyed by the general advantages of holding office as well as Maryland’s carefully drawn political districts.
“For the most part, the Democratic establishment has done a brilliant job of gerrymandering,” said Donald F. Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “I don’t see any of these incumbents in trouble.”
In 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature redrew Maryland’s congressional districts in a way that clustered Republican support in one district and ensured strong Democratic majorities in the others. The state has been ranked one of the most gerrymandered in the country.
The changes made it easier for Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) to oust Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett in the 6th Congressional District, which now stretches into liberal Montgomery County from more conservative Western Maryland and Frederick.
To calculate gerrymander scores, the district area was compared with the area of a circle with the same perimeter, then converted to a zero to 100 index. See how districts in other states compare at wapo.st/gerrymandered.
Still, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, the Republican nominee in the 6th District, has waged an energetic campaign this fall in hopes of bucking the odds and unseating Delaney.
Bongino, who previously ran for U.S. Senate and lost, has ramped up his social media presence, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and crisscrossed the district for months to knock on doors and speak to voters. Political observers say it remains a long shot: Bongino would need terrifically high Republican turnout and support from a good chunk of Democrats and independents to win.
“I’m just going to go for it,” Bongino said. “I’m just going to speak passionately about things that matter to me,” including the economy, tax cuts and national security.
Delaney said he has focused on farming and traffic issues in his district, and how Congress can help address them. In a nod to independent voters, he introduced legislation calling for open primaries and national redistricting reforms that would give moderates more of a voice.
“Congressmen in gerrymandered districts are only talking to one-half of the country,” Delaney said, adding that he believes his constituents are “looking for an advocate to . . . propose a process that is more consistent with representative democracy.”
In addition to Bongino, the following candidates are challenging congressional lawmakers in the state:
• Democrat Bill Tilghman, a lawyer and Army veteran from the Eastern Shore, is challenging Rep. Andy Harris (R) in the 1st District. Tilghman has experience as a corporate executive and said he finds Harris’s politics too rigid.
• In the 2nd District, Republican David Banach — a Marine who served in Iraq — is running as the “poor man,” according to his Web site, against Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), who is well financed. Banach, 30, is a recent Towson University graduate.
• Charles Long, a retired Johns Hopkins University chemistry professor, is the Republican nominee seeking to unseat Rep. John Sarbanes (D) in the 3rd District with a platform that includes immigration reform and marijuana decriminalization.
• Republican Nancy Hoyt, a retired health-care administrator and widow, is running a grass-roots campaign against Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) in the 4th District, which stretches across parts of Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties. She said voters have told her over and over that they feel ignored by their representatives at the federal level. She blames gerrymandering.
“District 3 looks like someone took an egg and threw it at a map, and wherever the yolk splattered that is where the lines were drawn,” Hoyt said. “The career government elitists feel confident that they will be in power forever.”
• In the 5th District, small-business owner Chris Chaffee is the Republican challenger to longtime Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D). Chaffee, a Calvert County resident, thinks term limits would make Congress more effective.
• Corrogan Vaughn, a Republican and the son of a respected Baptist pastor is Baltimore, is running against longtime Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D) in the 7th District. Vaughn, a former airline worker, also filed paperwork to run for president in 2008.
• Republican Dave Wallace, who describes himself as a tea party leader, is challenging Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) in the 8th District. On his Web site, Wallace equates the incumbent’s support of energy industry-regulating bills to communism.
Regardless of the outcome of any given race, the political process is made better when incumbents are challenged, said Paul Herrnson, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut.
“These people who run in these lopsided districts do voters a tremendous service,” Herrnson said, “by being out there and raising issues that may otherwise have gone unheard.”