Given a choice, some top Republicans would rather go head-to-head with a veteran state senator than a novice politician in the 6th District race for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“No one should underestimate John Delaney, not only the Democrats, but the Republicans,” said Blaine R. Young (R), Frederick County Commissioners’ president and co-chairman of incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett’s campaign for re-election. “As a Republican, I’d much rather run against Rob Garagiola than John Delaney.”
He went on to describe Delaney as a “business person who can self-finance his campaign, while Garagiola has a work record of being a lobbyist.”
Eight Republicans and five Democrats are vying to represent the 6th District. Once a heavily Republican district, it was reconfigured last year to give Democrats, specifically Garagiola, the advantage in November.
But Delaney, a Potomac businessman who made millions as a lender to small businesses, is making major strides in an increasingly vicious primary contest. He’s racking up high-level endorsements — former President Bill Clinton and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) — and has put Garagiola on the defensive with well-timed attacks on his ethics, experience and voting record.
Local pundit and publisher/editor of FrederickPolitics.com, George Wenschhof, said it is doubtful Bartlett will emerge as the winner in November.
“In light of redistricting, Maryland 6th District Republican voters who say they favor facing one Democratic candidate over another are exercising wishful thinking,” Wenschhof said. “[They are] hoping for a result similar to what took place in the 2002 Maryland gubernatorial election,” when Republican Robert L. Ehrlich defeated Democratic candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend despite statewide voter registration numbers that heavily favored the Democrats.
“This should serve as a reminder for Democratic candidates and voters to keep their eyes on the prize,” Wenschhof said.
The Delaney campaign seems to have inspired some Republicans, despite the fact they don’t want to compete with him in the general election.
“Delaney has the most compelling record,” said Bud Otis, former chief of staff for Bartlett. “He’s been very successful in business, and we need more candidates like that. Garagiola has no real-world experience. He’s been a state senator and worked at a lobbying firm in Washington.”
Garagiola is not concerned Republicans say he would be easier to beat than Delaney. Campaign spokesperson Andrew Platt will not acknowledge the possibility that Delaney will claim victory April 3. Republicans, he said, will “face Rob in the fall.”
“And, yes, Rob is pro-marriage equality, pro-choice, pro-Dream Act and pro-green jobs, and Rob is running on his record,” Platt said. “And Rob is going to win on his record.”
The voting record, amassed during his 10-year career as a state lawmaker, does make Garagiola more of a punching bag for Republicans than Delaney, who has not served in public office, said Del. Justin Ready (R-Dist. 5A) of Westminster. But, according to Ready, Republicans have plenty of fodder to use against either candidate.
“While Delaney does not have a voting record, he has a lot of money and lots of big-money ties to liberal causes,” he said. “There’s a lot on both of them, both good and bad.”
In the most recent Federal Election Commission finance reports, released Jan. 31, Garagiola had raised $344,261 to Delaney’s $118,000, a sum he donated to his own campaign. The next reports are due April 15, after the primary.
On the plus side for Garagiola, Ready said, he has a solid base in the 6th District, and Delaney’s a wealthy businessman.
“That may not go over so well in this climate,” Ready said.
State Sen. David R. Brinkley, Garaiola’s colleague and a top challenger to Bartlett in the Republican primary, thinks the Democrats can work this one out for themselves, but his campaign would relish a race between himself and Garagiola.
“Candidates without voting records can, and do, say anything to win. That said, we'll let the Democratic voters figure this one out on their own,” said Don Murphy, Brinkley’s campaign manager.
He used the phrase “ideological street fight of the decade” to describe a would-be race between the two legislative leaders.
“Two, 10-year Senate veterans, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, mixing it up on issues they have been debating and voting on during the past two-and-a-half terms would finally settle the question of left versus right, more spending or less spending, tax cuts or tax increases, [Nacny] Pelosi or [John] Boehner,” Murphy said.