This article first appeared in the Baltimore Post-Examiner. It is republished with permission.
The November rematch between Rep. David Trone (D) and Del. Neil Parrott (R) in the race for Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District is likely to be very competitive, according to recent polls.
The Cook Report rates the district D+2. FiveThirtyEight rates the district R+1.
Two years ago, Trone, 66, who has served in Congress since 2019, defeated Parrott, 52, by about twenty percentage points. And that pattern very likely would have remained constant were it not for a March decision by a state judge to throw out a congressional map approved by the Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly in Dec. 2021 over Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.
Seven of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are represented by Democrats. Had the proposed map been implemented, it is possible that all of the state’s congressional districts would be represented by Democrats.
Concerns over partisan gerrymandering led to the map being thrown out and forced the legislature to go back to the drawing board and adopt a revamped map.
Under the revamped map, the sixth district includes all of Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Frederick counties-as well as a swath of heavily Democratic northern Montgomery County. The previous map, which was adopted in 2011, split Frederick County between the sixth district and the eighth district, which is represented by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D).
The sixth district race is considered the only competitive congressional race in the state. But for a candidate to prevail they may have to count on more than just how the district lines are drawn.
Can Trone win a third term in a year that is projected to favor Republicans at the national level? Is popular discontent with President Joe Biden coupled with record breaking inflation and gas prices sufficient to see Parrott through to victory?
“As is the case for many midterm races, it might come down to voter turnout. And we are not sure the extent to which national trends will mirror trends here in Maryland,” Carin Robinson, a professor of political science at Hood College in Frederick, told Baltimore Post-Examiner.
“Nationally, we expect economic concerns to drive voter behavior. And this is thought to benefit the Republican Party. At the same time, the Democratic Party is harnessing reactions to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and there is a chance Democrats fair better than expected. However, with abortion rights currently protected here in Maryland, I do not anticipate Democrats to have as much success mobilizing around this issue than in other states,” Robinson added.
Robinson said the decision by GOP voters to nominate outspoken and conspiracy theory touting Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll) for governor, could have a negative down ballot affect for Republicans.
“The gubernatorial race is likely to shape the race in the 6th Congressional district as well. With Cox on the ticket, the Republican Party will be perceived as more Trump-friendly than it would if Kelly Schulz had won the nomination. If Parrott wants to differentiate himself from Cox/Trump, he might have a hard time doing so. Thus, moderate Republicans might be tempted to sit out this election giving an advantage to Trone.”
Moreover, Robinson said Trone likely will benefit from his fundraising prowess and the common perception that he is a moderate.
“Trone initially won with little political experience, he now has quite a bit of experience and I think comes to this race with some political accomplishments that will appeal to district 6 voters. I think particularly of his work on opioid abuse. He also has the funding – his own contributions and those from the national party which says it will contribute to this race as it fights to maintain the majority in the House. He has name recognition. There is a reason why incumbency advantage is usually upwards of 90% in the House – name and money shape political outcomes.”
Richard Vatz, a professor of political science at Towson University, said he believes Trone is more likely than not to win in November.
“I would be surprised but not astounded should Parrott win over Trone in the general election. Parrott looks like a Cox-like winner, strong in the primary which brings out intensive support from far-right Republicans, but falling short in November to Democrat incumbent Trone, who in 2020 beat him handily.”
Vatz said Parrott is unlikely to derive significant benefit from continuing to highlight that Trone, a Potomac resident, lives outside the congressional district that he represents.
“The residence issue and the new district map weigh in for Parrott as FiveThirtyEight details, but it should not be enough to turn over Trone’s popularity and fundraising potential which he has already demonstrated. If I may presume to give voters advice, it would be: ‘watch but don’t bet.'”
Trone has generally dismissed the residency issue as largely irrelevant and has instead emphasized his commitment to voters’ in the district vis-a-vis having secured money for infrastructure improvements and tackling pressing issues such as opioid addiction.
“I’ve kept my promise to work with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and I have delivered real wins for our district like securing nearly $1 million to expand broadband in Garrett County, $4.8 million for the Fayette Street Bridge in Cumberland, and $4 million for a new facility for after school and summer programs for children, not to mention tens of billions to combat the opioid epidemic throughout the region,” Trone told the Post-Examiner in a statement. “People throughout the Sixth District know that they can count on me to be on their side. And unlike some, I have never taken a dime from PACs, lobbyists, or corporations, and I never will.”
But Parrott, a Hagerstown resident who has served in the House of Delegates for more than a decade, said voters deserve to have a congressman who lives in their district.
“People in western Maryland believe that it is time to have someone who represents them in Congress. Someone who actually lives here and is one of them…It is not fair for western and central Maryland to be represented by someone who is not from this area.”
Parrott noted that Trone ran for Congress against Raskin in district eight in 2016 and lost that primary contest. Parrott relayed that he has been involved in the fight against partisan gerrymandering since around the time of the defeat of GOP Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in 2012.
Bartlett represented the sixth district for two decades. For most of that time it was solely comprised of western Maryland. The adoption of a new map in 2011 would pave the way for his defeat to Democrat John Delaney. Delaney retired in 2019 after having served three terms and embarked on a very brief campaign for president.
Parrott said that Trone, the owner of the alcohol mega-retailer Total Wine & More, is out of touch with the district’s voters on many issues, such as energy costs.
“My opponent is all about trying to promote green energy and really does not care about the price of gas and how it affects everyday Americans. It does not affect him. He is a multimillionaire. He has this utopian view that we should have solar and wind when in reality we need to have electricity and fuel for cars. So that people can live and continue to go to their jobs.”
As for what affect Cox’s candidacy might have on other Republicans, Parrott said he believes the candidate will gain more political traction as the general election gets closer.
“We cannot afford to have Wes Moore as the governor of Maryland. This guy is going to come in, spend a fortune, and raises our taxes. You are going to see more and more people flee the state of Maryland like we did during the O’Malley years…I think that as we get closer and closer to November…I believe we are going to see a lot of more support for Dan Cox.”
Trone’s campaign had about $11 million of cash on hand as of late June, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Parrott had about $345,000 of cash on hand at that time, according to the FEC. The latest figures account for fundraising prior to the candidates’ primary elections. The next reporting period is at the end of September.
Trone’s campaign manager, Cheryl Bruce, told the Post-Examiner in a statement that many of Parrott’s views fall outside of mainstream political thought.
“Neil Parrott is an extremist willing to say or do anything to deflect from his own career because he’s never delivered anything for Western Maryland. Instead, he’s been focused on attacking marriage equality, working to turn back the clock on accessible, affordable healthcare, and fighting to limit investments in roads, bridges and broadband. Parrott is so far outside the mainstream he even sued fellow Republican Larry Hogan and has argued we should publicly tattoo people that are HIV positive. Neil Parrott’s record clearly shows he would rather grandstand on radical ideas than produce results.”