By Len Lazarick
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett hasn’t announced his retirement yet, but other Republicans are sure acting like he’s going to.
His longtime chief of staff Bud Otis just quit after several weeks of testing the waters in the race. Wednesday evening, state GOP Chairman Alex Mooney filed an exploratory committee to look at replacing the congressman he once worked for.
Sen. David Brinkley of Frederick quickly followed suit Thursday, naming an exploratory committee that co-chaired by half the Republican state senators – including the two others from 6th District — and four of the Western Maryland delegates.
This culminates months of internal intrigue in which many people had urged the 85-year-old, 10-term congressman to step aside at the top of his game and for the good of the party. Former House of Delegates Speaker Casper Taylor, a Democrat, said he gave Bartlett the same advice a while back.
Bartlett has continued to insist that he’s running, as he did last week in an interview with Andy Schotz of the Hagerstown Herald Mail.
Doubts about Bartlett
The problem is no one totally believed Bartlett. He’s has been sending mixed signals for months.
He filed for re-election with the state June 30, but he failed to file his renewed candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.
He was raising piddling amounts of money even though he knew that Democrats were gunning for him in the redistricting plan, partially because he was the weaker of Maryland’s two remaining Republican congressmen. Democratic leaders despise the socially conservative Rep. Andy Harris, but yet gave him an even safer Republican 1st Congressional District that could be his for as long he wants.
Even before Brinkley and Mooney got into the race, Bartlett was facing one of his toughest reelection battles with four candidates opposing him in the primary, including gadfly Robin Ficker and Brandon Rippeon, a former Montgomery County Council candidate who was the first challenger in the race to put up TV ads on cable throughout the district. Two other Republican candidates, Joseph Krysztoforski and Robert Coblentz have already filed.
Bartlett insisted he wanted to maintain the seat for the party, but few people other than himself, who once embraced term limits, thought he was the best candidate to hold onto a district that now includes 300,000 people from Montgomery.
In another of Bartlett’s mixed signals, he dragged his feet on raising money to challenge the lawsuit of the congressional redistricting plan, and had to be cajoled into doing it. (The redistricting fight is being financed by the conservative Legacy Foundation of Iowa, but that organization is relying on contributions from Bartlett, Harris and others to foot the bill.)
Free for all race
Everybody is now treating the 6th District as if the incumbent had retired and it is an “open” seat, leading to the typical free-for-all in a competitive district. If Bartlett still refuses to retire, the number of Republican primary challengers, even well known figures such as Brinkley and Mooney, may be to his advantage in holding onto the job.
On the Democratic side, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola was considered the major beneficiary of the reshuffling of all those Montgomery County Democrats into the 6th. But he may face a serious primary himself from commercial banker John Delaney and from former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg.
But Garagiola is still the candidate anointed by Democratic Party leaders. Thursday, he was officially endorsed by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, likely just the first of other big-name endorsements.