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George Michael: Some surprises in 6th District primary election

April 13, 2012|By GEORGE MICHAEL

President Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney won their respective Democratic and Republican primaries in Maryland last week. No surprises there.

What was surprising, very surprising in fact, were the results in the 6th Congressional District. Republican Roscoe Bartlett and Democrat John Delaney won their races by 22 percent and 25 percent, respectively. It was expected that both races would be closer.

The biggest losers from last week had to be Gov. Martin O’Malley and state Sen. Rob Garagiola. Garagiola was the heir apparent and choice of the governor to unseat Bartlett this fall.  Garagiola ended up with egg on this face, and on a few other faces, too — including mine, since I picked him to win. He finished with 29 percent of the Democratic vote to Delaney’s 54 percent. 

Garagiola had all the backing any politician could ever hope to have. His endorsement list was a Who’s Who of traditional Democratic special interest groups, as well as leading state and local politicians.

I have a copy of his glossy campaign literature. What a lineup!  The endorsement list included the AFL-CIO, UAW, AFSCME, NEA, SEIU, Maryland State Teachers’ Union, Fraternal Order of Police, the Firefighters, MoveOn.org, Progressive Maryland, Human Rights Campaign, Sierra Club, and the list goes on. 

Garagiola’s supporters included the governor, state senate President Mike Miller, Congressman Steny Hoyer and two other Maryland congressmen, 20 Maryland senators and delegates including Hagerstown’s John Donoghue, as well as Hagers-town City Councilman Lewis Metzner, Register of Wills Jason Malott and Boonsboro Mayor Skip Kauffman. 

To top it all off, Garagiola had an established political base of support in Montgomery County, where he has served the last 10 years. His opponents were political newcomers.

So what happened? Was it the Delaney campaign strategy or his big spending? Or was something else at work? His win surprised some political observers and most likely reflected a pushback by Democratic voters and a rebuke of the governor. 

Could it be that voters were upset and reacting to the governor’s plans for a gas tax? Is it possible they were frustrated with all the time and effort spent this term on the gay marriage issue? Maybe there was even some simmering resentment about the heavy-handed approach to the newly gerrymandered congressional districts.

Some see Bartlett getting just 44 percent of the vote as a sign of dissatisfaction with him within the Republican Party. Indeed, many expected Bartlett not to run this year, which drew a pretty strong field of opponents, unlike the Democrats, who had four political novices running against Garagiola. 

The surprise on the Republican side was the weak showings of Sen. David Brinkley and Del. Kathy Afzali. Given the feeling that Bartlett was vulnerable and with a crowded field of seven worthy opponents, the win by Congressman Bartlett was actually a very decent showing for the 85-year-old, 10-term incumbent.

His race against Delaney will be interesting. Unfortunately, we will have to wait seven months for it to play out. Looking at what happened to Garagiola makes it apparent now that Bartlett would have easily defeated him in November. Delaney will be a tougher nut to crack.

Delaney is not a conservative. He made it clear at the Democratic forum in Frederick that he supported the Obama health care plan (though he did say it might need a few adjustments), gay marriage, abortion rights and in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants. He touted his family’s strong ties to the labor movement and his own support of typical Democratic causes.

The western half of the 6th District is pretty conservative. It should be noted that in Washington County, Obama received 75 percent of the vote for president with 25 percent of Democrats voting uncommitted. That tells you something about our political profile.  Unfortunately, the other half of our district is now in Montgomery County, thanks to our governor’s redesigned maps. 

With the likelihood of three items that are issues of concern for conservatives on the ballot this fall, turnout could be solid locally, helping Bartlett. One other slight inconvenience for Democrats is that Delaney does not live in the 6th District. How is that for representation? 

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is gfmichael46@gmail.com.

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