All seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs, and in Maryland one race stands out as most in play.
It’s in the 6th Congressional District, which now looks nothing like it used to. Redistricting, part of a larger partisan maneuver to squeeze every ounce of political gain for the state’s Democrats, has changed the complexion of the district considerably.
If the 6th Congressional District were a person, that cursed patient would be suffering from major multiple-personality disorder.
Stretching 200 miles from urbanized Montgomery, through western Maryland to the rural peninsula of Allegany and Garrett counties, the newly designed — really, gerrymandered — district doesn’t need one congressman, it needs two.
The two mainstream candidates, incumbent Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick County and Democratic challenger John Delaney of Montgomery County are as different as a blizzard at Deep Creek Lake and a traffic jam on Interstate 270. Libertarian candidate Nickalous Mueller of Baltimore also is seeking the seat.
At 86, Bartlett is a fascinating character who has held the seat for 20 years, a rare Republican in the Democratic-dominated Maryland congressional delegation. He’s a scientist, farmer and one of the original congressional founders of the tea party. In parts of rural Western Maryland, Roscoe still walks on water.
Delaney is the son of an electrician whose literature notes attended college on a union scholarship. He is a self-made millionaire who built his own companies and came out of the blue with lots of campaign cash to shock the Democratic machine to take the April primary from anointed candidate, Montgomery County state Sen. Rob Garagiola.
Given the politically diverse nature of the sprawling district, both candidates have stressed their independence from party orthodoxy, with Bartlett pointing to his votes for civil liberties and Delaney, who is largely an unknown quantity, promising not to trade his vote to anyone for anything.
To get elected in what could be a closer vote than some pundits believe, such a strategy is not surprising. However, Bartlett, by most measures, votes 90 percent of the time with the GOP majority in the House, which he attributes mostly to “procedural votes.” Yet some of those obstructionist votes helped solidify partisan gridlock at a time when compromise was needed more than ever to help the nation recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Bartlett also was criticized by other Republican challengers during the primary for failing to have much significant legislation to show for two decades in Congress. Some of his opponents said it was time for a change, for fresh ideas for a fresh new district.
They were right, which is why Delaney is the best choice to represent the district.
This is not a normal district and Delaney is not a normal Democrat. His capitalist background has more in common with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney than President Obama, driving his views on the importance of balancing the budget and reinvigorating a sluggish economy. His views on social issues, however, fall well within the Democratic mainstream.
Undoubtedly, Delaney brings some questions with him. He doesn’t live in the congressional district, but some believe that was the result of Democratic powerbrokers in Annapolis redrawing the district to serve Garagiola by moving Delaney out of it (he only lives about 0.2 miles from the new district line). He also failed to vote in two elections in recent years, one in 2006 and another in 2010.
During the campaign, he repeatedly has visited the far corners of the 6th District, pledging to be a good listener to the concerns of all of its constituents. He believes his ideas for a more competitive economy will benefit all residents, where more unites than separates them when it comes to the need for jobs and infrastructure improvement.
Regardless of who is elected president, most Americans demand and hope that a new era of effective governance will emerge in Congress from the partisan meltdown of the last two years. Delaney, who sounds as if he would be comfortable working both sides of the aisle, is uniquely equipped to be a player in that new era.