By Sam Smith
In the final hours of Maryland’s most closely contested congressional race on Sunday, 6th district incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett was marching in a veterans parade and then phoning voters for hours, while Democratic challenger John Delaney was knocking on doors in Hagerstown and urging on volunteers at his own phone banks.
“The one thing in life you can’t fake is showing up,” said Delaney, a multimillionaire banker from Potomac. “I plan on showing up for people.”
Delaney, along with his wife April, have canvassed in Garrett County, Hagerstown and Frederick. They have also been making early-morning appearances at the Shady Grove Metro Station to greet the morning rush hour commuters followed by appearances at early voting locations.
“Getting acquainted with the constituents of Montgomery County is the biggest challenge,” said Bartlett, who picked up 300,000 heavily Democratic voters in a redistricting plan designed to push the 10-term incumbent out of office.
Bartlett lived in Montgomery County when he worked for IBM in the 1970s, and has concentrated his campaign efforts there working out of his Montgomery Village campaign office.
The only published poll in the race by the Baltimore Sun a week ago has the race tied at 42% to 42% with 17% undecided, but Delaney has an edge in money and endorsements, including a robocall from President Bill Clinton.
Bartlett sees a tough election
“It is a very tough election, I recognize that,” Bartlett said. “ It’s going to depend on turnout. For me to win it has to be a very robust Republican turnout, very robust. It’s a very Democratic district.”
Early voting was not promising, with Democrats outvoting Republicans statewide 3 to 1, and turnout in the Republican western parts of the 6th district below average. Delaney outraised Bartlett six-to-one in the early part of October.
With campaign offices in Hagerstown, Frederick and Gaithersburg, Delaney has an army of over 1,500 volunteers that will place phone calls and knock doors through the election.
Few swing voters in Montgomery
Bartlett campaign volunteer Jake Shade said that the Montgomery part of the district holds few swing voters making it hard for the campaign to gain support.
“They don’t like to hear from us. It seems like it is a different breed of Democrat,” Shade said. “Here we are going door-to-door and some people say that ‘Connie Morella is just too conservative for me’ and others say ‘We don’t think our taxes are high enough.’ It’s hard to win those people over.”
In contrast to Delaney, Bartlett does not have a large corps of volunteers and most of the campaign action is run out of a single Montgomery Village office. That is where Bartlett personally called over 250 voters in six hours on Saturday telling them the only way he can win reelection is with their help.
Close-lipped in western Maryland
Delaney phone bank volunteer Linda Carey, who has worked at his Gaithersburg office since February, said that she is having hard time gauging responses from the voters in the western counties.
“I have talked to a number of voters in western Maryland and I get mixed signals from western Maryland,” Carey said. “I find western Maryland to be in their own little time and place. They have not been very forthcoming about who they are going to support. It’s difficult to get a feel on it.”
Lifelong Hagerstown resident Kim Drees expressed a similar sentiment when she was visited by John and April Delaney at her home on Sunday. Drees, said that there has been little election talk among her neighbors this year, which is different from years past, she said.
“I’m not hearing much this election and it’s got me a little worried,” Drees said. “I don’t know if they are voting or if mum is the word because they don’t want anybody to know who they are voting for.”
However, Chase Jordan a volunteer worker in Delaney’s Hagerstown office said that he has seen a slight rise out of the Democrats in Washington County this year compared to elections past.
“[Delaney] has been out here a lot more than I can remember in recent history and that has really revitalized activism out here,” Jordan said. “We have always been loving our Democrats in Washington County. There are some of us out here. What we lack in numbers we make up for in quality and that has been really present this time.”
All issues are local
Delaney said the issues that people care about are local issues not county issues. He said people are too caught up in thinking of Montgomery County as a Washington suburb to realize that there are varying issues within the county.
Local issues in Montgomery County can actually relate to issues in the west, Delaney said. Issues facing the constituents in in the Montgomery County agricultural preserve, which is over one quarter of the county’s land, are similar to the issues that farmers care about in the rural areas of western Maryland.
“Montgomery County is not as simplistic as people make it out to be,” Delaney said. “These are all very local issues and I think representing the 6th Congressional District involves thinking about the whole portfolio of issues. It’s not just two. Its actually dozens of little sub-issues and handling all of them to a high standard is the most unifying way.”
Bartlett see sharp contrasts
However, Bartlett said that there is no hiding the differences between Montgomery County and the rest of the district.
“Clearly, if you just drive through the two parts of the district you see how vastly different they are,” he said. “The district I now represent is made up of volunteer fire companies, small towns, bedroom communities, lots of farms. Montgomery County they have no volunteer fire companies. They are very different districts.”
Bartlett, who lives on a farm outside Frederick, said he is prepared for the challenge of representing a diverse district because he has held many different titles throughout his career from being a farmer and scientist to small business owner.
However as Bartlett will admit, there is a rising anti-incumbency feeling in western parts of the district, which Drees exemplified in her conversation with Delaney when she said “it is time for new blood.”
“If you ask the people, is it time to give someone else a chance? They would tell you by big majorities, yes,” Bartlett said. “But when it comes time to vote, they go with the guy that they know and they trust.”