A better-funded Democrat tries to take down Maryland’s only GOP House member

A better-funded Democrat tries to take down Maryland’s only GOP House member

Heather Mizeur is running to unseat Republican incumbent Andy Harris in Maryland’s First Congressional District. Harris has held the seat since 2011. (Nolan Clancy/Capital News Service)

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CNS NOTE: Due to a reporting and editing error, the CNS story on the House race in Maryland’s First District that moved Sept. 29 stated that parts of Harford, Baltimore and Carroll Counties are in that district. That is incorrect. The story should have said the following: 
Maryland’s First District is the largest in the state by geographic area, comprising the entire Eastern Shore as well as all of Harford County and part of Baltimore County.”
By NOLAN CLANCY and COURTNEY COHN
NORTH EAST, Md. – Heather Mizeur’s campaign for Maryland’s First Congressional District seat has raised $1,570,809 so far, more than any of the last four Democratic candidates who came before her, according to Federal Election Commission records.

House election analysts, however, only give her a slim chance to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Harris in November. He has held the seat since 2011 and has raised $955,507 so far in his campaign for reelection, according to the FEC.

“Our elections are not really contests between competing visions and candidates of different backgrounds and qualifications anymore so much as they are censuses of how many Democrats and Republicans live in a given area,” said Dave Wasserman, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Maryland’s First District is the largest in the state by geographic area, comprising the entire Eastern Shore, as well as parts of Harford, Baltimore and Carroll Counties. Election experts say the rural electorate remains the main roadblock for Democrats hoping to turn the district blue.

“It’s always leaned toward Harris. He’s got a pretty strong foothold over the Eastern Shore,” said Candace Turitto, the program director of applied political analytics at the University of Maryland.

Mizeur said she has heard it all and has seen firsthand how the last two Democratic challengers fared in their attempts to unseat Harris.

In 2018, former Army Ranger Jesse Colvin received 38.1% of the vote, compared to Harris’ 60%. In 2020, 20-year military veteran Mia Mason received 36.4% of the vote, with Harris getting 63.4%.

Despite what the past may say about her chances, Mizeur’s campaign churns forward with what she describes as tangible grassroots momentum.

“I think what’s different this time is the experience I bring and my emphasis on bipartisanship and the unity coalition I’m creating in the campaign,” Mizeur told Capital News Service. “That’s no disrespect towards Jesse Colvin or Mia Mason. I worked to support both of them and they worked hard and did their best under very tough circumstances.”

Mizeur brings more experience in government to the table than either of her predecessors, having served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2015, representing an area in Montgomery County. She also ran in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2014.

Mizeur said that 84% of contributions to her 2022 campaign have come from people donating $100 or less, giving her confidence that she has the individual support necessary for a successful campaign.

“In this district, meeting the moment means taking that excitement and marrying it to a similar hunger for rejecting what has been a failure of leadership for us in Andy Harris,” Mizeur said.

Mizeur’s campaign is focused on lowering the cost of living, bringing better jobs to the district and “centering farmers in our environmental protection strategies,” according to her website.

Harris, by contrast, is mirroring the GOP message of other House candidates this fall: he is opposed to what his campaign website calls “the Biden-Pelosi agenda,” and wants to “save our schools and protect our pocketbooks.”

Harris, Mizeur and Libertarian candidate Daniel Thibeault are slated to square off in a debate on Oct. 26, hosted by Cecil TV at Cecil College in North East, Maryland.

While Harris’s hold on the district may remain strong, his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol drew the attention of the select House committee investigating the attempted coup. 

Harris was present at a Dec. 21, 2020, meeting at the White House where then-President Donald Trump discussed a plan to “encourage members of the public to fight the outcome on Jan. 6,” according to testimony from Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida, at a House panel hearing in July.

Harris said in a statement to 47ABC that he hadn’t had a chance to watch the hearing, as he “was busy working on important issues like bringing down the price of gas and groceries and securing our communities against violent crime.”

“This is a Freedom Caucus member from a very blue state who has gone out of his way to antagonize Democrats,” Wasserman said. “There are plenty of Democratic donors in Maryland who want to do something about it, but their only shot at beating him was through redistricting.”

While experts give Mizeur a relatively slim chance today, a redistricting effort championed by Maryland Democrats could have made this election a drastically different story.

In November 2021, the Maryland Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission released its first proposed map. If this original map had been implemented, the First District, which has included primarily red counties on the Eastern Shore, would have included parts of Annapolis. Annapolis has historically been one of the bluest parts of the state and Biden won the area in an overwhelming victory in 2020.

“It’s kind of like taking an ice cold Democratic ice cube and dropping it in a bowl of red hot Republican soup,” Turitto said.

According to Turitto, while the map would not have completely ruled out a Harris victory, it certainly would have altered the discourse around the race.

In March 2022, Anne Arundel County Senior Judge Lynne A. Battagli struck down the proposed map, citing “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”

The legislature was ordered to draw a new map, which evidently pleased Harris and once again provided him with a safe seat in Congress. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan approved the map in April.

“Thankfully, despite the attempts by progressives in Annapolis to draw new district lines to such an unfair degree that it would ensure no Republicans serve Maryland in Congress for the next ten years, voters got a map that is fair, compact, and respects geographical boundaries such as the Eastern Shore,” Harris said in a statement to CNS.

This current district map will stand through 2032 until the census is redone.

“Ten years from now, if Democrats pursue a more ambitious map that passes court muster, then there’s a chance” to win the First District, Wasserman said. “But at least for now the most likely outcome is a 7-1 Democratic majority” in the state’s House delegation.

About The Author

Capital News Service

kdenny12@umd.edu

Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. With bureaus in Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, they deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations and a destination Website.

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