WASHINGTON – While Rep. Christopher Van Hollen tours the country to save a Democratic Party expected to suffer many defeats in November’s election, he has to keep an eye on the four Republicans vying in Tuesday’s primary for the opportunity to unseat him.
“All are good, strong candidates,” says Mark Uncapher, chairman of the Republican Party of Montgomery County, the bulk of which is located, along with a portion of Prince George’s County, in the state’s 8th Congressional District.
But taking on Van Hollen, who as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is credited with helping to regain a Congressional majority for the Democrats and is now tasked with trying to retain it, is a formidable task.
One of these challengers is Bruce L. Stern who is running for the second time in as many years.
With no previous political background, Stern — an 18-year Montgomery County resident — is optimistic about the primary election.
There is a strong “anti-incumbent fervor out there,” said Stern, a self-described social moderate and fiscal conservative running on a platform of fiscal responsibility.
Stern is particularly concerned about the national debt, because “by allowing our national debt to get so large, we’re risking our national security.”
And Stern counters the proposition that the House seat for the 8th Congressional District — home to the 11th-highest median income in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — is a safely Democratic seat, as many political pollsters suggest.
“It’s an extraordinary election year … (because of) how upset the American people are,” he says. “In 2010 there isn’t any such thing as a safe Democratic seat.”
First-time candidate and Chevy Chase resident William V. Thomas, 68, another Republican contender, is equally hopeful.
“Being a rookie is a benefit,” said Thomas, whose platform includes tax cuts and reprieves (including a six-month tax holiday for small businesses) and health care insurance reform.
“Incumbents are falling by the wayside” as they work hard “to convince voters that they are not responsible for all the things they’re responsible for,” Thomas says.
In this election, he continues, “voters are more inclined to take non-politicians more seriously.”
Rockville resident Christine Thron, another campaign rookie, is running for the Republication nomination for Van Hollen’s seat because she is “unhappy with the direction of the country.” A mother of five, she does not want her children saddled with the national debt.
“We’re headed the same place Greece has just been, on the road to bankruptcy,” she says.
And, “there’s too much taxation and regulation on businesses.” Thron’s platform includes balancing the budget, reforming education, repealing health care and reducing taxes, the national debt and the size of the government.
“When the federal government grows, the individual is diminished, and I’m just a big believer in individual liberty,” she added.
The other Republican candidate — Michael Lee Philips of Rockville — could not be reached for comment. Philips has been endorsed by Maryland Right to Life.
Together, the four Republican candidates have raised a little more than $90,000 for their campaigns. They are largely self-financed.
Van Hollen, on the other hand, has raised nearly $1.5 million — none of it self-financed — according to OpenSecrets.org.
The 8th Congressional District is very liberal, said Milt Minneman, spokesman for the Montgomery County Democratic Party.
“I think…Van Hollen is very well-respected in the part of his district that is in Montgomery County,” Minneman says, adding that “individuals tend to support the incumbent in such a situation,” and that the “anti-incumbent feeling is pretty weak here in Maryland,” in comparison with the rest of the country.
“We don’t see (this re-election bid) as a very risky campaign,” he added.
Like his Republican opponents, Van Hollen is also intent on helping small businesses. He touts his recent support of a bill passed by the House to provide community banks with funds for lending to small businesses.
Van Hollen has one Democratic challenger — Robert Long, a retired computer programmer and first-time political candidate who says “(Van Hollen’s) just not voted for things that are good for the country.”
“He’s voted for some bills that have increased the national debt quite a bit,” Long adds.
Two other candidates are also running for this congressional seat — Libertarian Mark Andrew Grannis and Fred Nordhom of the Constitution Party. Neither party is holding a primary election.