COLLEGE PARK – Republican Collins Bailey said there is a simple reason why he decided to challenge Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, for Congress — no one else would.
“My first goal was to make sure that the race was contested, so that the congressman could have a dialogue about the good and bad decisions he’s made,” said Bailey, who added that he “was very disappointed” when Hoyer faced no Republican opponent in 2006.
Bailey, 54, is a self-employed lumber broker who has been elected to four consecutive four-year terms on the Charles County Board of Education. He is running for Congress on a platform of “limited, constitutional government,” fiscal responsibility and what he terms “American independence and national sovereignty.”
“Basically, I think taxes should be lower and government should be smaller,” Bailey explained.
But getting that message out to voters will be a challenge for Bailey, who faces a well-known and well-funded incumbent in Hoyer.
Hoyer has held the 5th District seat for nearly 30 years, rising steadily in the Democratic ranks to his current office as House majority leader.
His strongest challenger in 2006 was Green Party nominee Steve Warner, who took 17 percent of the vote. The last Republican to challenge Hoyer was Bradley Jewitt, who carried 29 percent of the vote in 2004.
In his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Hoyer reported having raised nearly $3 million as of June 30 and having more than $1.5 million in cash on hand. Those numbers make his campaign one of the wealthiest in the House.
Bailey, by contrast, reported total income of just over $4,500 for his campaign in the same filing period, most of which has already been spent in operating costs.
He also faces long odds as a Republican running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Maryland State Board of Elections statistics show that voter registration in the district is more than 2-1 Democratic.
Bailey said he is counting on the record-low approval rating of the Democrat-led 110th Congress to motivate some 5th District Democrats to vote against the party.
“In the history of polling, the congressional approval rating has only been this low six times — five of them were this year,” Bailey said.
Justin Ready, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, attributed the public’s low opinion of Congress partly on its perception of incumbents like Hoyer.
“I think there’s a general sense of incumbents looking out for themselves and not for the best interests of the people,” Ready said. “I think with Collins, you’ve got a guy who really cares about his area, his district, and voters will see that.”
But Michael Cain, chairman of the political science department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said voter dissatisfaction with Congress probably is not enough to be helpful to the Bailey campaign.
“I don’t see how that will motivate voters to turn out an incumbent like Steny Hoyer,” Cain said by telephone. “Although (voters) might have a bad view of Congress, that doesn’t necessarily extend to their opinion of their representative.”
A Hoyer spokeswoman agreed.
“It’s not unusual for Congress to have a low approval rating. Locally, representatives tend to be favored higher than Congress in general,” spokeswoman Stephanie Lundberg said.
She added that Hoyer “maintains an excellent standard” in his district.
According to Cain, Bailey’s biggest weakness is simply a lack of name recognition.
“I don’t see how he can go up against an institution like Steny Hoyer when most people don’t know who Collins Bailey is, even among Republicans I speak to,” Cain said.
“He needs to be able to put forward a positive vision of what he would do that Steny Hoyer won’t,” Cain said. “He might be doing that, but I don’t hear it.”
Bailey is not deterred.
“People are saying that they are lifetime Democrats and they’re going to vote Republican. They’re ready for a real change.”