CHEVY CHASE, D.C. – There are motivated people, and then there are people like Jimmy Mathis.
James D. Mathis, 28, the Republican candidate for Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, wakes at 3 a.m.
Then he drives an hour and 15 minutes from his home in Cockeysville to Washington, D.C., where, lately, he has been shooting and editing news segments for WTTG-Channel 5 on a freelance basis.
At 12:30 p.m., he rambles back to Baltimore County; to his wife, Christy Mathis, 27, who is two months pregnant with their first child; to his 4-year-old production company, Mathis Productions, Inc.; to the television pilot he’s working on, a travel show called “1710” (that’s how many seconds there are in a broadcast half-hour); and to his campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives.
He’s happy if he gets three hours of sleep.
“I’m having the time of my life,” says Mathis, just coming off a shift at WTTG and looking crisp in black pinstripes, even though he’s already been up for 10 hours at midday.
Mathis zoomed into the television news business right after graduating from Towson Catholic High School in 1994. His boss at the local batting cages where Mathis worked as a teenager, prying baseballs from jammed hurlers, hooked him up with a friend at WBFF in Baltimore. Eight years, three stations — he’s also worked at WBAL, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore — and three local Emmy Awards later, Mathis has few regrets.
“It was a tough decision,” he says of forgoing college, “but I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
“He’s a jack of all trades,” says Christy Mathis, a social services counselor at Humanim Inc., in Columbia. (Their first date, in 1998, was a local Emmy Awards ceremony. Mathis, 20 at the time, won two — one for photography and one for editing. They married four years later).
“He earned a real education in his own right. I think the skills that he’s learned are incredible. He’s done television, he’s done radio . . . One of the great things about him is he can truly talk to anybody, and he genuinely wants to listen to them. He’s very much a student of life.”
Mathis mentions in passing that he also holds a world record, having flown a single-engine Cessna from Ocean City, Md., to Long Beach, Calif., as a 16-year-old — the record for the youngest student pilot to make a solo transcontinental flight still stands.
He did it, he says now, because no one else bothered to. Such was also the condition for his first voyage into politics.
Up until the last day to file for candidacy, the 2nd District didn’t have any Republican takers. Mathis, who had plans to run for office — “just not this soon” — says that he “figured I’d give voters here a choice.”
Two other Republicans, Dee Hodges and J.D. Urbach, figured the same, and suddenly an empty column became a three-way primary race.
Mathis prevailed by 421 votes. By comparison, two-term Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Mathis’ opponent, breezed through his primary with 44,332 more votes than Democrat Christopher C. Boardman.
Ruppersberger says he is happy to have the competition, however lopsided the race appears.
“I respect anybody who decides to get in the ring, so to speak,” Ruppersberger says. “I don’t bear any ill will.”
The 2nd District, which reaches into parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties, as well as Baltimore City, is about 61 percent Democrat, with 219,486 registered voters to the Republicans’ 89,440. And the funding gap — Ruppersberger has $400,266 on hand to Mathis’ $175, according to October finance reports — is pronounced.
Mathis is plain about his chances in the general elections (“It’s a long shot”), about his primary (“Honestly, I really believe it could’ve gone either way”) and about his ambitions (“I’m going to focus on campaigning for this seat for the next four years?”).
But the odds haven’t diminished the intensity of his campaign. He talks a lot about ensuring his would-be constituents a “nest egg” for retirement. Running on a platform to toughen up immigration law, which, he says, bears heavily on Social Security and health care, Mathis roves his district daily, glad-handing local business owners, staking signs, “and just talking to people, listening to their concerns,” he says. “It’s obviously a grassroots campaign.”
That it’s any campaign at all is something of an accomplishment, according to Christy Mathis. Jimmy Mathis’ father, she says, always talked about running for office, but never did.
“My father has had an interest to run for office for a while but never actually talked about a specific seat or office,” says Mathis, an only child who grew up in Glenarm, about five miles from where he lives now. “I would imagine that is were my interest came from, and was then compounded by working in Washington, D.C.”
This year may be out of his reach, Mathis admits, but his campaign is just underway. If the seat opens up in 2010, he says, hinting at a Ruppersberger campaign for governor, Mathis will be ready to pounce.
But right now, he and his wife are looking ahead to the November elections — and to a weekend in Ocean City soon after.
Christy Mathis says, “We both say we’re in desperate need of a massage.”