By andrew Damstedt
WASHINGTON – More Republicans than Democrats have signed up to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, in the April primary, even though boundary changes made during redistricting favor Democrats in the general election.
So far, four Republicans and three Democrats have announced their campaigns to run in the recently redrawn 6th Congressional District, where 85-year-old Bartlett has served as Congressman for the past 20 years.
Those seeking Bartlett’s seat are Republicans Robert Coblentz, Robin Ficker, Joseph Krysztoforski and Brandon Rippeon; and Democrats Rob Garagiola, Milad Pooran and Duchy Trachtenberg.
Portions of Baltimore and Harford counties as well as Carroll County were taken away from the 6th District during redistricting. More of Montgomery County was put into the district, while another part of Montgomery County was removed and added to northern Frederick County to reform the 8th District.
“I’ve run and won in a Democratic majority registration Sixth District and never enjoyed the benefit of having a district drawn to pick voters for me,” Bartlett wrote in an e-mail. “I am proud to have enjoyed the support and votes from Democrats and independents as well as Republicans.”
In the past decade, the Maryland State Board of Elections shows the 6th District has had more registered Republicans than Democrats. Even in Bartlett’s first election win in 1992, which his staff cited as an example, there were more registered Republicans than Democrats. Data shows there were 140,797 registered Republicans and 139,922 registered Democrats in that election, with both parties having more than 80 percent voter turnout.
Adding more of Montgomery County is expected to put more Democratic voters in the district. Montgomery County has the second-highest number of Democrats in the state at 322,981, elections board data shows.
Sixth District boundary changes make Bartlett one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, said Center Maryland columnist Josh Kurtz, who said he isn’t entirely convinced Bartlett will seek re-election. However, Bartlett is the only incumbent Maryland congressman to file for re-election.
“Republicans are in a kind of wait-and-see mode for a while about Bartlett,” Kurtz said, who speculated that national Republicans might be more willing to donate money to the race if someone other than Bartlett got the nomination.
So far, Bartlett has the most money of any candidate in the race, Federal Election Commission filings show, with $260,727 cash-on-hand.
Only two other candidates have reported any campaign funds, with Krysztoforski reporting $5,123 raised; while Rippeon contributed $2,500 to his campaign and took out a $47,500 loan. The next FEC reporting deadline is Jan. 31.
In 2010, an average, successful, congressional race cost $1.44 million, while an average winning campaign in Maryland cost $1.68 million, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. Bartlett spent $367,098 in 2010 and $204,443 in 2008, the center reported. He’s raised $3.45 million in his congressional career and has raised $606,097 for the past two elections.
Frederick County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Myrna Whitworth has hopes a Democrat can win in the 2012 election. The last Democrat to represent the district was Bartlett’s predecessor Rep. Beverly Byron of Frederick. She served in Congress from 1979 to 1993.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of attention paid to the 6th District, not only in the state but nationwide,” Whitworth said. “It’s not a given. I think we’re going to have a tough race and I’m confident we are going to have a good nominee coming out of the process to bring us victory in November.”
Three possible Democratic candidates have emerged, 39-year-old Garagiola, 34-year-old Pooran, and 57-year-old Trachtenberg. Garagiola has received several endorsements from Democratic leaders from the district.
Republican candidate Ficker said the district’s boundary changes were made to award state Senate Majority Leader Garagiola the seat.
“I know that first of all, it’s not his seat, it’s the people’s seat,” Ficker said. “I know that the people in this district want someone who will promote jobs and prosperity and not be a tax-increase specialist.”
A Boyd resident and defense attorney, the 68-year-old Ficker said while he agrees with Bartlett on many issues, he is running against the congressman because he can bring a fresh perspective to the district.
Garagiola, who’s been in the Maryland Senate for nine years, dismissed redistricting as a main reason he got into the race. He wants to represent the district instead of having an “ideological member of Congress,” do the job, he said.
“I think in part there’s a frustration in the public right now that Congress is doing these stopgap (measures), with the budgets and really operating in a very dysfunctional way,” said Garagiola, a Germantown resident.
The Republican Congress, he said, has not moved a jobs bill for the past nine months and has been focused on partisan politics rather than the U.S. economy.
Trachtenberg, a former at-large Montgomery County Councilwoman, portrays herself as the anti-establishment candidate and Garagiola as a political insider.
“It’s a nice contrast, you’ve got the establishment candidate who comes out of the Annapolis insiders club, and you’ve got the insurgent progressive candidate who has a track record of independence and common sense,” said Trachtenberg, a North Bethesda resident. “It’s a clear contrast, we’ve got different records and I think we have a different approach to problem solving.”
Jefferson resident Pooran paints both his primary opponents as career politicians. His military and medical experiences are assets he said he would bring to Congress. Pooran served in the U.S. Air Force Medical Corps and the Maryland Air National Guard.
“I think the way our country was designed to be was truly private citizens who felt strongly in a cause and then went into politics for that purpose,” Pooran said. “And then they went back to being private citizens.”
His cause, he said is to help get the country out of the economic crisis by cutting non-essential government programs and increasing revenue by reforming the tax code.
Other Democrats could enter the race before the Jan. 11 filing deadline, though Gazette columnist and WBAL radio commentator Blair Lee said Garagiola likely will get the nomination. However, whether Democrats vote by party lines or whether they are frustrated with the district’s gerrymandering will decide which party wins the election, Lee said.
“If I’m Roscoe Bartlett, I run on gerrymandering and nothing else,” Lee said. “I run against the entire Democratic apparatus that disenfranchised Western Maryland. I make that the issue and not Garagiola. That would entice a lot of Western Maryland Democrats to vote their resentment.”
Republicans Coblentz, Krysztoforski, and Rippeon are promoting themselves as anti-establishment candidates.
Coblentz, a 33-year-old systems analyst from Williamsport, said he’s running against Bartlett, not because he disagrees with his policies, but because he believes the congressman has been in office too long.
“I just don’t really care for the direction of the country,” Coblentz said. “I think the established politicians are in it for their meal ticket and I don’t think they have done a good job representing the people.”
This is Krysztoforski’s second time running against Bartlett, the first in 2010, where he received 15.8 percent of the primary vote.
“Look at the economy and look at what has to be done,” Krysztoforski, a 57-year-old Hunt Valley businessman said. “We have a national debt of $15 trillion, the raising of the debt ceiling — we looked like a banana republic. The people in Washington who are supposed to be solving the problems are the ones who created the problems. We have to control the spending.”
Citing his work in the private sector, most of it as an auto dealer, Rippeon, 39, said he wants to simplify the tax code, increase domestic petroleum and natural gas production and overhaul the nation’s immigration policy.
“We have so many individuals who are career politicians,” said Rippeon, a Darnestown resident. “I think a lot of these people are out of touch and I don’t think they understand so many of the things they are doing in Congress at the federal level, how they affect real people and the real economy.”