WASHINGTON – After taking a pass on the 5th Congressional District in 2006, the Republicans are giving it another shot this year.
Collins Bailey, a lumber broker from Waldorf, has accepted the task of challenging House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, Maryland’s longest-serving and highest-ranked congressman.
Bailey, 54, was elected to the Charles County Board of Education in 1994 and is serving his fourth term. He has no legislative experience, but said his working-class background gives him practical know-how not known to most career politicians.
“Small businessmen know what it’s like to work a real job and earn the money that we get and balance budgets,” said Bailey, who founded his business, Bailey Lumber Co., in 1974.
It will be difficult for Bailey, a relative unknown, to overcome Hoyer’s popularity, said Michael Cain, professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Hoyer, 69, was first elected in 1981. He has received more than 65 percent of the vote in each of his last five elections, culminating with 82.7 percent in 2006, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. None of his Republican challengers has ever broken 45 percent.
“Even if people knew (Bailey’s) name and knew of him, this is a bad time for Republicans,” Cain said, referring to the fact that Republicans will likely lose seats in the House and Senate this year. “This is a very lopsided race.”
As of Sept. 30, Hoyer had raised nearly $3.4 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Bailey raised $18,410, although he pointed out that more than 75 percent of it came in the most recent quarter.
“I thought that was pretty encouraging,” said Bailey, adding that fundraising wasn’t a major priority for much of his campaign. “It makes you wonder just how much we could’ve gotten if we went out there and did some fundraising.”
A recurring theme in Bailey’s campaign has been his displeasure with the Democratic-controlled Congress. He has harped on its lack of popularity, often citing how House and Senate approval ratings have dipped as low as 9 percent in the past year.
Bailey said Congress has lost its way, devolving into a pattern of overspending and partisan bickering, and that the leadership, particularly Hoyer, is emblematic of the problem.
“Congressman Hoyer is a very experienced, very skilled politician,” Bailey said. “But he’s going in the wrong direction.”
The rift between constituents and congressmen was apparent during House proceedings to craft the $700 billion bailout plan, which called for the government to buy distressed assets from ailing banks in an effort to stabilize the financial industry.
The plan was said to be necessary by many experts and politicians but faced heavy public disapproval. It was voted down in the House Sept. 29, but a second version passed the Senate and House on Oct. 1 and 3 respectively.
Bailey has been pointedly critical of the bailout, calling it “a $700 billion Band-Aid plus $150 billion worth of pork and earmarks.” He has accused politicians of “punishing taxpayers” by hastily passing the bill so it wouldn’t further delay Congress’ adjournment.
“These guys in a hurry tend to do something quick rather than something correct,” Bailey said. “Putting a Band-Aid on it … so they can leave town is hugely irresponsible.”
Bailey has criticized Hoyer publicly, but getting the two to meet has proved difficult. Bailey’s campaign claimed in September that Hoyer backed out of a scheduled candidate forum at St. Mary’s College. The Hoyer campaign denied it, saying the congressman was never formally invited. College officials agreed, adding that the event had been discussed but never formally scheduled.
“Mr. Bailey was very gracious about this afterward and said that it was a mistake in his campaign,” said Cain, acting director of the school’s Center for the Study of Democracy.
Bailey maintains he’s willing to debate Hoyer “at any time, at any venue.” Such direct challenges rarely lead to debates though, as traditional protocol is for a third-party to organize an event and invite the candidates.
“We have not received any invitations,” said Lisa Bianco, executive director of the Hoyer campaign. “So at this moment there are no plans.”
With or without a debate, the heavily Democratic district is likely to elect Hoyer for the 15th straight time. And while Bailey is the underdog, he said he has provided a voice and an option to those whose views differ from the majority.
“I trust the people to make decisions for themselves,” Bailey said. “I’m content that on Nov. 4, we have a choice. And whatever the people of the 5th District choose, I’m ready to live with that.”