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Warren Christopher: A career soldier who always knew he’d become a politician

Warren Christopher, one of sixe candidates vtign for the Democratic nomination to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)

This is the second in a series of profiles of the six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to represent Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

In more than 20 years of military service, Warren Christopher never tired of telling his friends and colleagues how eager he was to run for federal office.

So much needed fixing, he would say. He had the energy and know-how to get things done. People don’t need politicians, they need a champion.

After he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2009, he set out to make it happen.

“I am not an establishment candidate. I believe in talking to people,” said Christopher, one of six Democrats running for the nomination to succeed Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D) in Maryland’s 4th Congressional District. “They need results . . . tangible results.”

He first ran for Congress in 2014, mounting a primary challenge to Edwards, who has held the seat since 2008 but is giving it up to run for the Senate. Christopher ran what he calls “a flimsy campaign” and got 13 percent of the vote.

Since then, Christopher, 48, has maintained a grueling schedule to bolster his profile.

He is a ubiquitous presence at Prince George’s community events. When County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) held town hall meetings last spring to promote his tax-raising plan, Christopher went to the microphone and pitched his candidacy. When angry parents and students at Forestville High School demanded answers from their leaders in January about the school’s imminent closure, Christopher spoke up — though he was not directly connected to the issue.

Christopher’s campaign operates out of the basement of his Upper Marlboro home. He reported having $80,000 in the bank as of the end of 2015, has few paid workers and lacks the political experience and visibility of the front-runners in the Democratic race. (Several Republicans also are running in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which is based in Prince George’s County and stretches into Anne Arundel.)

But what he lacks in dollars, Christopher makes up for in enthusiasm or, as he calls it, “sweat equity.”

“There’s been no candidate who has reached as many people as I’ve reached,” Christopher said. “I’ve actually connected with people who vote.”

Christopher’s story begins on a farm in rural Alabama, where he was raised by his maternal grandmother. He enlisted in the Army after high school and, while serving, earned a scholarship to Purdue University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in political science and government. He later received a master’s degree from Marine Corps University, according to his campaign.

He traveled around the globe, serving in South Korea and in conflicts in Macedonia and Iraq, and worked as an aide to four-star generals and as an Army liaison on Capitol Hill.

In that time, Christopher married, had two daughters and divorced. Most recently, he worked as chief of staff at the small-business center of the Department of the Interior, where he said he learned the challenges entrepreneurs face when competing for federal contracting opportunities.

Many of the issues Christopher cares most about — pay equity for women, rent control for seniors, benefits for veterans — stem from his personal life. His daughters informed his stance on pay equity. His relationship with his grandmother drives his fight for rent control for seniors. His struggle with obtaining benefits fuels his advocacy for veterans, a key issue in Prince George’s County, home to the largest population of vets in the state.

In a race that so far has been almost entirely polite, Christopher sometimes stands out at candidate forums for sharp attacks on other candidates. Last week, for example, he mentioned the private school education of former lieutenant governor Anthony G. Brown’s children, insinuating that perhaps his rival doesn’t support county schools.

“I’m not concerned about offending them,” Christopher said. “We have to hold everybody accountable.”

Annette Leath-Burgess, an administrator for a nonprofit organization, was so inspired after hearing Christopher speak at an event last year that she volunteered to help.

“I’ve never been vocal about supporting a political candidate,” Leath-Burgess said. “There’s something very special about him. I just think Warren can do it better.”

Next: 4th District candidate Matthew Fogg (D).

Read more:

4th District candidate Anthony Brown, trying for political redemption

Md. Senate candidates on attack in first debate

In 8th District, donations from ‘Hardball’ guests draw fire