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Even though 10-term Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) has insisted repeatedly that he is running for re-election, members of both parties are treating Maryland’s 6th district as an open-seat race.
Until three weeks ago, there was little visible activity among ambitious Republicans, and party operatives were insisting publicly that possible challengers would defer to the 85-year-old incumbent. But quietly, several would-be candidates were exploring possible runs as speculation about Bartlett’s retirement ramped up post-redistricting.
The rumors morphed into a frenzy last week when it was reported that his chief of staff, Bud Otis, was seeking political support for a run in the event Bartlett retires. Though Otis said he was not looking to challenge his boss, the move undermined Bartlett’s retirement denials.
On Thursday, state Sen. David Brinkley (R) and Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney filed paperwork to form exploratory committees. Republicans say there will probably be more announcements in the near future.
Brinkley was planning to run against Bartlett regardless of his retirement status. Mooney, on the other hand, is a former Bartlett staffer and had publicly pledged his loyalty to his old boss. He told Roll Call that his entrance into the race was directly tied to Otis’ activities.
When asked about the potential for a primary, Bartlett acknowledged a lot of “uncertainty” in the field. He said he had been in communication with Mooney amid the Otis news. He described Mooney as “acting responsibly” and said that “Alex has my back.”
Self-financed businessman Brandon Rippeon, another GOP candidate, has been campaigning since the summer and has aired an ad on cable television.
“Being a young man, I believe our best days are ahead of us,” he says in the ad, a not-so-veiled reference to the incumbent’s age.
Bartlett has had little trouble winning re-election before, but Democrats in control of redistricting dismantled his safe Republican district. There are differing opinions among Republicans about whether Bartlett, the second-oldest House Member, would be the party’s strongest nominee.
Bartlett raised just $1,000 in the third quarter, adding to the retirement buzz. He insisted that fundraising will come “all in good time,” and he has recently raised $150,000 for a legal fund that is challenging the new Maryland map.
Meanwhile, there is more certainty on the Democratic side, where there is a clear early frontrunner — by design.
Republicans and Democrats grumble that state Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D), who served on the governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee, engineered the new 6th district lines to elect his protégé, state Sen. Robert Garagiola (D).
Garagiola, a Montgomery County attorney, has served in the state Senate for nearly nine years, rising through the ranks to the office of state Senate Majority Leader. Prior to his election to the state Senate, he served as an Army reservist.
At this point, it does not appear likely that other top-tier Democrats will join the race for a seat that looks to be a top pickup opportunity for the party. Several well-known Montgomery County Democrats have already passed on the race.
Montgomery County businessman John Delaney has formed an exploratory committee and is expected to make a formal announcement on his intentions any day now. Former Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg is also running.
Garagiola is by far the most organized candidate in the race. He has made numerous trips to campaign in Western Maryland.
But some Democrats are still frustrated by the outcome of redistricting, and it remains to be seen whether Delaney can emerge as a viable Garagiola alternative.
A Democrat aligned with Delaney said that as Delaney has traveled the district, he has heard “grievances that the district was drawn for a certain individual, and there is displeasure.” That sentiment echoed what other political operatives in the district have said, although not on the record.
“That certainly is great political theater, but the reality is far less interesting,” Garagiola campaign manager Sean Rankin said. He cited “demographic changes” as the source that necessitated the changes in the lines.
“Now we have a new, very competitive district as demonstrated by multiple Democrats in a primary, not to mention a lot of newfound interest on the Republican side,” Rankin said.
The consensus among party strategists on both sides is that Democrats are favored to win the race, but it remains winnable for Republicans in the right environment and with the right candidate.
“In our eyes, the seat is still competitive,” Maryland Republican Party political director Matt Proud said. Republicans are “dead-set on winning it,” he added.
Roll Call rates the 6th district race as Leans Democratic.