Candidates in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District focused their last-minute campaigning mainly on Montgomery and Frederick counties Tuesday as voters went to the polls to choose their parties’ nominees.
The western Maryland district, a longtime GOP stronghold, was drastically reshaped by Democratic-led redistricting to make it competitive for the first time since incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett won it in 1992. The prospect of a close November contest — or even a primary defeat — energized the 85-year-old congressman’s campaign. He planned to shake hands at five locations Tuesday, including two in Washington County.
Bartlett’s strongest challenger among seven opponents was state Sen. David Brinkley. He claims Bartlett hasn’t lived up to his conservative talking points, citing Bartlett’s August vote in favor of raising the U.S. debt limit by $2.1 trillion in exchange for an equivalent amount in spending cuts.
Bartlett says he voted for what he called “a very bad bill” to avoid a default on U.S. debt obligations. The congressman says his critics don’t understand the complexity of bills that sometimes require him to cast votes that apparently contradict his views.
Their generally civil contest turned nasty Saturday when a group called Victory for Bartlett emailed to the district’s registered Republicans clips of 911 police recordings from a 2008 domestic disturbance between Brinkley and his wife, who have since divorced. Brinkley’s campaign called the email “a pathetic act of desperation.” Bartlett’s camp denied any role in the tactic.
Bartlett got a plug Monday from Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, speaking in Frederick, praised Bartlett for bringing attention to the threat of electromagnetic pulse weapons that an enemy could use to cripple America’s electrical network by detonating a large explosion in space.
The district’s five-way Democratic primary race was dominated by a clash between state Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola and Montgomery County businessman John Delaney, founder of commercial lender CapitalSource Inc.
Garagiola won endorsements from Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, organized labor and 5th District Rep. Steny Hoyer, who is seeking a 17th term.
Garagiola started the race as the perceived favorite since the redrawn district includes a large chunk of heavily Democratic Montgomery County, where Garagiola lives.
Delaney gained momentum with endorsements from former President Bill Clinton, Democratic state Comptroller Peter Franchot and 4th District Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md. Delaney poured nearly $1.4 million of his own money into his campaign and far outraised and outspent Garagiola.
In an exchange of attacks, Delaney painted Garagiola as an opportunistic political climber in league with the Washington lobbyists for whom Garagiola once worked and who also backed the state senator’s candidacy. Garagiola countered by calling Delaney a “loan shark” whose company preyed on working families during the recession.
The other Maryland House members in contested primaries Tuesday were 3rd District Rep John Sarbanes, seeking a fourth term; Elijah Cummings, seeking a ninth term in the 7th; and Chris Van Hollen, seeking a 6th term in the reshaped 8th District.
The uncontested incumbents were 1st District freshman Rep. Andy Harris, the state’s only other Republican House member, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, seeking a sixth term in the 2nd.