Three candidates for Maryland's 6th District seat in Congress will lead dual lives for the next three months — state legislator and federal campaigner.
For state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, state Sen. David R. Brinkley and state Del. Kathryn L. Afzali, it will be an especially taxing task because of geography and time.
The distance from Annapolis to the far western edge of the sprawling 6th District — through Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties — is more than 200 miles.
And the legislative session — which started Wednesday, the candidate filing deadline day — closely aligns with the remaining campaign season.
The primary elections will be held April 3, six days before the legislature adjourns.
Three other Maryland state legislators are running for the House of Representatives in other districts this year and one is running for U.S. Senate. Another is a candidate for circuit court judge.
Some consider it a "safe" year to run for higher office because state lawmakers won't have to give up their current positions if they lose.
The 6th District is particularly competitive this year, sparked by the recent redistricting that pulled in more of Montgomery County, making it easier for a Democrat to win.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the Republican incumbent, is trying to win an 11th two-year term.
Brinkley and Afzali, both of Frederick County, are among seven people challenging Bartlett in a GOP primary.
Garagiola, from Montgomery County, is one of five Democrats in the race.
None of the three legislators expressed any doubt that they can run a strong campaign while staying true to their legislative duties.
"I'm going to vote and, you know, serve the obligations that, you know, I've been called to do," said Garagiola, the Senate majority leader. "It's an honor to represent people here in Annapolis and it's an obligation that I'm going to meet. It would be an honor to serve in Congress and I would take that responsibility just as seriously."
"There certainly will be stresses put on time," said Brinkley, a former Senate minority leader, "but I think, you know, people need to keep in mind that those of us who are running for Congress, I feel our first responsibility is certainly the citizens that elected us in the first place. So we have some challenges to meet and scheduling is certainly an issue. But it's not insurmountable and I think that a lot of the people involved understand that."
"First and foremost, my priority is to my constituents," Afzali said. "They elected me to be here and to be their voice, and I'll continue to do that. I will be here every time I need to be here. I will be here for all my votes. I'll be here for committee meetings. And I will serve them to the best of my ability ...
"I will be a weekend warrior ... I hope to be at every event in Washington County. And whoever hears this message, please invite me because I want to meet you."
Brinkley and Afzali filed for the race this month.
Garagiola, though, has been making the rounds in the district for months, ever since Democrats in Annapolis started contemplating how to redraw the 6th District map in his favor.
He said he has a strong team working with him and expects to be on the campaign trail often.
"Ninety days from now, post-primary, I'll demonstrate that I was able to fill my obligations here, win the primary, and then (start) gearing up for the general election," Garagiola said.
Candidates not tied to Annapolis for three months might have an easier time working their way through the district.
But, Brinkley said, "a lot of people that are down here, you know, are going to be actually working on issues and taking tough votes. I think it all comes out in the wash."
Some members of the Washington County delegation are invested in the 6th District race, as well, although in lesser roles.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. are Brinkley's campaign coordinators in Washington and Allegany counties, respectively.
"As the Allegany County chair, the most I'll be doing is this," Myers said, putting a phone receiver to his ear.
Del. Michael J. Hough and Del. Neil C. Parrott were county campaign coordinators for former state Sen. Alex X. Mooney while he explored a run for Congress. But Tuesday, Mooney announced that he won't run. Instead, Mooney, Hough and Parrott are backing Bartlett.
Myers also considered vying for the 6th District seat. He said last week that if Bartlett didn't run, he would have.
But it wouldn't have been easy.
"It's going to take everything they have within themselves to do it," Myers said of the state lawmakers in the race.
On the Republican side, "the primary's going to be won in the western three counties," meaning even more campaign miles, he added.
For the Congress candidates holding elected office, their dual lives will crescendo at the same time — in early April, right before the primary and right before the legislature adjourns, Myers said.
Afzali said she's ready to pour herself into her campaign in her spare time.
"If anyone knows me, they know that I am a formidable and energetic campaigner," she said. "And I'm not going to have a lot of time to campaign before April 3rd, obviously. I'm hoping that people will still vote for me and understand why I am so busy and can't always be out there to meet them.
"However, if I can get through that primary, I will be the most formidable candidate against whoever the Democratic candidate is because there's probably in the state not a tougher retail campaigner than me."