WASHINGTON – Tim Hutchins bounced around the New Carrollton Metro station one recent morning, swooping in on commuters to pass out leaflets and chat about his bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer in Maryland’s 5th District.
But in the fog behind Hutchins, loomed a massive reminder of Hoyer’s hand in the district — the Internal Revenue Service office complex that the incumbent helped bring to New Carrollton.
“No one is better at bringing home the bacon” than Hoyer, said Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research. He said that talent has helped the 10-term Democrat hold a district that grew more conservative and more Republican after the 1990 redistricting.
The ideology of the district remains key to the Republicans, who say no amount of pork-barrel politics can make up for the fact that Hoyer, D- Mechanicsville, is too liberal for his constituents.
“Hoyer talks one way and votes differently,” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. “He’s out of step with the district.”
The state party has made the 5th District a priority, working to help Hutchins raise money to fight Hoyer, who has more than $760,000 in campaign cash on hand. By contrast, Hutchins, a state delegate from Charles County, has raised $75,695 and had $6,972 on hand as of Thursday, according to his campaign.
“People want some change, (my) chances are very good,” Hutchins said, although he admitted Hoyer is “a strong campaigner, you have to give him credit.”
Hoyer has been a fixture in Maryland politics for decades. A product of local schools and the University of Maryland, he was elected to the state Senate in 1966 and became its president in 1975, the youngest person to hold that office.
He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1978, and returned to politics in 1981 when he won an election to fill the seat of Rep. Gladys Noon Spellman, who fell into a coma while campaigning.
Hoyer has been rising through the ranks of House Democrats since. Today he is co-chairman of the Democratic Steering Committee, which parcels out committee assignments to Democrats in Congress. He is considered a leading candidate to become majority whip, the third-highest leadership position, if Democrats regain control of the House.
Both allies and enemies credit Hoyer’s popularity with his ability, as a high-ranking Appropriations Committee member, to bring government projects home to his district — which encompasses Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties as well as parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties. On Monday, he is scheduled to campaign at the site of a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms facility in Beltsville.
“Hoyer is in the minority and still delivering big time for the district,” said Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, a Prince George’s Democrat who has known Hoyer for more than 30 years. “He’s one of the most effective congressmen on Capitol Hill.”
Miller ticks off a list of projects Hoyer brought home — including National Archives II in College Park and the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt — as well as the expansion of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park.
“One of the greatest things he did was save the Patuxent River naval air base and assure people it would remain there for years,” said Bob Swann, director of government relations for the Tri-County Council. Swann grew up with Hutchins in Barstow, and respects him, but said he will support Hoyer.
But Ellington derides Hoyer’s pork politics and said that, most of the time, he claimed credit for initiatives that were not even his. Ellington said it was often local communities that saved military bases like Patuxent River, not Hoyer.
“If Hoyer wants to do something for the district, he should bring in something other than government,” said Ellington.
While Hoyer’s backers rattle off capital projects in his support, Hutchins likes to rattle off statistics, especially statistics about crime, a theme of his campaign.
A Calvert County resident for most of his life, Hutchins said his legislative priorities stem from his background as a Maryland State Police captain and his experiences as a soldier abroad, including Vietnam. Hutchins, who is currently a command sergeant major in the Maryland Army National Guard, says defense and crime are two of his biggest concerns.
“He’s a strong proponent of crime legislation and handles himself well on the floor,” said Delegate Charles McClenahan, R-Somerset. “He embodies the ideals of a good Republican representative.”
Hutchins, 55, was elected to the House of Delegates from Charles County in 1994, his first elected office. Before that, he served more than 20 years with the Maryland State Police. He likes to draw on his personal experiences when talking about crime in Maryland, saying “there’s no substitute for being there at two in the morning for a family dispute.”
He also taps his military experience. Hutchins said Hoyer is “not as big on the military as he claims to be.”
Hutchins’ solution to what he views as a crumbling national defense is to call for an across-the-board increase in troop strength of 50,000 and to immediately pump $50 million into armed services. He said he would work to make the military more of a budget priority and push for the development of new weapons systems.
Ellington said Hutchins “is a man of the people, he’s had a career outside politics,” unlike Hoyer. He accused the incumbent of using the 5th District only as a stepping stone to higher political office.
“Hoyer disregards the district, we only see him once every two years,” he said. “He’s beholden to every PAC (political action committee) on Capitol Hill, he’s never met a PAC he didn’t like.”
Hoyer collected $682,039 from PACs in the current election cycle, according to fecinfo.com. The private, nonpartisan web site said the greatest part of that money came from organized labor — $191,625 — with health-care PACs giving $79,000 and defense interests contributing $43,250.
His opponents are counting on what they call Hoyer’s Washington ties and liberal leanings to be his downfall.
“He’s for higher taxes, United Nation control of American troops. . .and expansion of the federal government,” said Ian Walters, a spokesman for the American Conservative Union. That group gave Hoyer a score of 8, out of a possible 100, for his 1999 voting record.
“Eight is pretty liberal,” said Walters, pointing to the score of 96 it gave to another Maryland congressman, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick.
But Hoyer’s supporters cite their own scorecards in defense of his record.
“He’s a consistent environment vote, and most Marylanders want to protect the environment,” said Susan Brown, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “Hoyer has a lot of power, we hope he wields it in protection of the Chesapeake Bay.”
The league gave Hoyer a rating of 73 percent for his voting record in current Congress. It gave Hutchins a score of 17 for his voting record as a delegate over the last two years, although Brown was encouraged that he sponsored a bill against bay dumping.
Hutchins said he is counting on the coattails of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush and the naturally conservative leanings of the district to carry him to victory.
But Maryland Democrats see little chance that the 5th District will abandon Hoyer, whose campaign is “in great condition, one of the many races that will help Democrats win back the House,” said state party spokeswoman Ann Beegle.
“You never say never, but the person running against Hoyer was recruited by the Republicans on the Hill to drag him (Hoyer) down,” said Miller. “He (Hutchins) doesn’t have enough money, and is not campaigning vigorously for the seat.”