Photo above: May 3 Kentlands parade by MdFriendofHillary on Flickr Creative Commons
By Len Lazarick
His Republican opponent may call him a liberal Democrat, but Rep. John Delaney continues to go his own way in Maryland’s Democratic Party representing part of Montgomery County and most of western Maryland in the 6th Congressional District.
Delaney, who made a personal fortune in running two financial services businesses, was nominated in 2012 over a candidate favored by the Democratic establishment. He won the hard-fought primary against state Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola with 54% of the vote, and then defeated 10-term Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett with 59% of the tally. This gained the seat for Democrats as intended in the partisan 2011 redistricting process.
Delaney spent a total $4.4 million for both campaigns, $2.4 million of it from his own pocket.
Poking the O’Malley administration
Since January, he has persistently poked the O’Malley administration — and thus the party’s nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown — over the implementation of the Obamacare health care exchange.
Delaney has been urging Maryland to switch over to the federal health insurance site because it was working better. “They made really bad decisions” on the Maryland Health Care Exchange, and “they just covered it up,” Delaney said.
“I view myself as a free-market progressive,” said Delaney in an interview. He agrees with his party on climate change and the social safety net, but supports “more market-based solutions.”
In Congress, while votes with fellow Democrats on most issues, he prefers to “work on big ideas, and do it in a bipartisan manner.”
He lays out that approach on his campaign website with a detailed 11-page letter that he largely wrote himself.
Big ideas, big money
His biggest big idea is the Partnership to Build America Act, which seeks to bring home some of the $2 trillion U.S. corporations have earned overseas, giving them credits as incentives to purchase bonds that would be used to build infrastructure.
Delaney said that bill may be the most bipartisan piece of legislation in the current Congress, with 37 Republican sponsors and 33 Democrats.
“There are certain things that government is highly effective at, things that it should do more of,” like building highways and bridges, Delaney said.
“There’s no really big pot of money other than the overseas cash,” he said. There are other competing proposals to tap into those corporate profits such as permanently lowering the high U.S. corporate tax rate, and Delaney said he plans on introducing such legislation himself.
“We need to fix infrastructure, and we’ve got to fix the overseas money problem and get the cash back here,” the congressman said. “I’m highly confident we’ll do something.”
With the Highway Trust Fund running dry, the House passed a 10-month financing fix last week.
Doing less of what government doesn’t do well
While he supports higher government spending on infrastructure, “We should do less of the things we’re not good at, like loaning money to energy companies,” Delaney said.
He thinks that the government should largely get out of the housing finance business through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and on July 10 he introduced a bill to do just that, the Partnership to Strengthen Home Ownership Act.
This legislation shifts the housing finance market away from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and uses private sector pricing to reduce the risk of future bailouts.
On Friday, he and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger were two of just 56 Democrats that joined almost all Republicans in the House to vote 277-130 for the Fighting Hunger Incentive to extend several tax breaks for charitable giving to food banks.
According to the website Open Congress, Delaney votes with his party 92% of the time, only about 2% less than the rest of the Maryland delegation. Ruppersberger is at 91%.
Appealing to moderate Americans
Delaney concedes that his bipartisan approach on some issues may not be attractive to the Democratic establishment, “but it’s incredibly attractive to the great majority of Americans. Average Americans view themselves as distinctly moderate.”
And even though his district was gerrymandered to take it out of Republican hands, he’d like to solve some of the partisan gridlock by requiring open primaries in which all voters can vote.
In a half-hour phone interview, Delaney never mentioned his Republican opponent, Dan Bongino, or even discussed the coming campaign, though he does recognize he needs to get reelected.
UPDATED 7/22/2014 11:30 a.m. June 30 reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Delaney has paid attention to his reelection, raising $887,000 so far. He has $306,000 in cash on hand, but still has a sizable $680,000 debt, reflecting the loans he made to himself for his first race.
Bongino has raised $603,000 for this campaign and has $32,000 in cash.
All three nationally known independent political analysts of congressional races expect Delaney to hold onto the seat. The Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Rothenberg Political Report view the seat as safe for the Democrats.
Republicans don’t see evidence of campaign
Republican Del. Mike Hough, who beat Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley in June, said he hasn’t seen much evidence of a Delaney campaign in his district, which covers much of Frederick County.
But Hough said the 6th Congressional District “still leans Democrat and John Delaney has a lot of money.
“The hope would be in an off year that it should be a Republican year,” Hough said. National polls show “people are ready to vote Republican.”
“Obviously [Delaney] ran an aggressive campaign” in 2012, but “he hasn’t been aggressively campaigning” this year.
“He may be taking it for granted,” Hough said. “But he’s got personal wealth, and he can use it.”
Congressional financial disclosure reports give only ranges for personal wealth and financial holdings. According to OpenSecrets.org, Delaney is the fourth or sixth wealthiest member of Congress, with a minimum net worth of $65 million and a maxmum net worth of $244 million.
GOP and Bongino hope to take back 6th Congressional District
I don’t know if Mr. Bongino can beat Mr. Delaney, but he will have to figure a way to cut into the Democratic votes coming out of Montgomery County. One way would be to identify marginalized Democrats and delivering a message that they can vote him for in November. Mr. Delaney is not exactly the ‘hardest-working’ representative on the Hill nor supportive of bills his constituents want. His lack of constituent service and his poor staffing decisions are 2 ways to look for the ‘chinks’ in his Democratic armor.