George Michael: Handicapping the race in the 6th District

March 30, 2012|By GEORGE MICHAEL

The primary election is Tuesday, and the attempt by Gov. Martin O'Malley and state Democratic leaders to defeat Roscoe Bartlett in the 6th District is the most interesting issue of this election.

As required following a national Census, congressional districts are redrawn to reflect population shifts. O’Malley did a masterful job redrawing districts all across the state. A study of the statewide map is a lesson in the absolute best, or worst, of gerrymandering. It would appear the governor’s goal is a one-party state.

One of those is our own 6th District, now served by Roscoe Bartlett. Instead of Frederick and Carroll counties in the 6th District along with Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties, most of Frederick County and all of Carroll County were removed and replaced by much of Montgomery County. Now, about half of the voters in the 6th District live in Montgomery County. Will the citizens of the three western counties roll over for the governor? 

Much is at stake in Tuesday’s primary as Democrats and Republicans each choose their champion to square off in November.

On the Democratic side, there are five candidates. The governor’s choice is Rob Garagiola. He is a smooth-talking, media-savvy liberal with a strong political base in Montgomery County. He knows how to play the inside political game. 

Surprisingly, not all Democrats were satisfied to hand the seat over to Garagiola, and a respectable field has emerged to challenge him. 

All are very liberal. At the Democratic Central Committee forum in Frederick, they made it clear that they like Obamacare, favor abortion rights, support the new gay marriage bill for our state, as well as the Dream Act that allows children of undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates. Several made fun of Bartlett, one even referring to his actions as “buffoonery.” It drew a lot of laughs.

I believe Garagiola will win the Democratic primary. Besides the backing of the governor and other party leaders, he has an established political base in Montgomery County, endorsements from all the major unions in the state and a well-oiled political machine that would make a Cook County, Ill., politician smile. 

John Delaney has made some spirited attacks on Garagiola, casting himself as the “pro-business” alternative. He has spent a lot of his own money in this race and even received the endorsement of the Washington Post. Is Garagiola too liberal even for the Post?

Earlier this year, there was speculation that Bartlett would not run again. This might explain the strong field of candidates giving Republican voters some great options. Particularly impressive so far have been Del. Kathy Afzali, Sen. David Brinkley and political novices Brandon Rippeon and Joseph Krysztoforski. And the lively Robin Ficker is running again, best known as the guy hired by Charles Barkley to heckle Michael Jordan at courtside in the 1993 NBA finals.

As the incumbent, Bartlett has a big advantage and should win the primary.  One strong candidate might have had a chance to unseat him. But in a simple plurality vote with seven opponents, any anti-Bartlett vote will be divided.  Brinkley and Afzali, both with a political base, should do well. They are not well known, however, in the three western counties. Bartlett is.

If Bartlett wins the primary, as I believe he will, Democrats can be expected to rub their hands with glee. They think he is vulnerable. They should not be too quick to celebrate.

There are two wild-card issues that should give them pause. When the governor and Garagiola drew up their maps and laid out their plans to grab this seat, they likely did not consider that the gay marriage bill and the Dream Act would be on the ballot this fall. You can expect a bigger turnout among conservatives than might otherwise have been the case. These conservatives will not be voting for Garagiola. Many Democrats up this way will not be supporting him, either.

Secondly, there could be a backlash against the makeover of the 6th District and the political shenanigans of our governor and the liberal elitists in our state.  Will we be governed by Montgomery County? Or will we say to the governor that he needs to quit dumping on the citizens of Western Maryland?

So, Roscoe, we need you one more time. And we have some good troops ready to step in to take your place when you are ready to hang it up. Hopefully, they won’t be from Montgomery County.

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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