New faces in House con­tests

GOP can­di­dates for Con­gress have tough bat­tles in Dem Md.

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By John Fritze

Nearly three decades ago, Dr. Mark Plas­ter, then the di­rec­tor of the emer­gency room at a Delaware hos­pi­tal, had to break the bad news to Joe Bi­den: The sen­a­tor’s life was in dan­ger.

Bi­den, com­plain­ing of neck and head pain dur­ing the 1988 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, had an aneurysm that was bleed­ing in his brain. Bi­den wanted to go to what was then the Wal­ter Reed Army Med­i­cal Cen­ter for treat­ment. Plas­ter was wor­ried he wouldn’t make it.

“I went in to talk to him and said, ‘You need to go to neu­ro­surgery now,’” Plas­ter said. “’If you blow that, you will die in front of me.’”

The vice pres­i­dent’s re­cov­ery and sub­se­quent po­lit­i­cal ca­reer are well known. Now, the doc­tor who had a hand in sav­ing Bi­den’s life is hop­ing to make a name for him­self in pol­i­tics, run­ning against the poli­cies em­braced by Democrats — in­clud­ing his for­mer pa­tient.

Plas­ter, 64, is one of hand­ful of Repub­li­can can­di­dates run­ning for Con­gress in Mary­land. It’s a chal­lenge, given the state’s Demo­cratic lean­ings — and the po­lit­i­cal map drawn by Democrats in An­napo­lis to fa­vor the party’s can­di­dates.

But this year a crop of com­pelling

can­di­dates is nev­er­the­less giv­ing it a try. Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s un­ex­pected win in 2014 is al­ready hav­ing an im­pact on state pol­i­tics: It’s mak­ing it eas­ier for Repub­li­cans to re­cruit ac­com­plished peo­ple for of­fice.

Plas­ter, who is chal­leng­ing Demo­cratic Rep. John Sar­banes in the state’s 3rd Con­gres­sional District, is an emer­gency room physi­cian, head of a pub­lish­ing com­pany and a Naval re­servist who de­ployed twice to Iraq. In the state’s 6th Con­gres­sional District, Amie Hoe­ber, a for­mer deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of the Army and na­tional se­cu­rity con­sul­tant, is run­ning a spir­ited race against Rep. John De­laney, who won re-elec­tion only nar­rowly in 2014.

Both are wealthy, and have been able to aug­ment fundrais­ing with their own money, min­i­miz­ing the fi­nan­cial dis­ad­van­tage Repub­li­cans typ­i­cally face in the state.

In the 2nd Con­gres­sional District, state Del. Pa­trick McDonough is well known in An­napo­lis, but he has re­ceived na­tional at­ten­tion for ty­ing his cam­paign so di­re­clty to the top of the GOP ticket. McDonough, run­ning against Demo­cratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Rup­pers­berger, has em­braced the moniker ap­plied to him by a Bal­ti­more Sun ed­i­to­rial last year: The “[Don­ald] Trump of Bal­ti­more County.”

“Gov. Ho­gan’s vic­tory in 2014 did change the at­mo­sphere,” said Mary­land Repub­li­can Party Chair­woman Di­ana Water­man. “It gave po­ten­tial can­di­dates the hope that they can win in Mary­land.”

To be sure, the GOP can­di­dates for Con­gress — ex­cept in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Rep. Andy Har­ris — are long shots.

Sar­banes won re-elec­tion in 2014 with 60 per­cent of the vote, roughly the same share of vot­ers Barack Obama cap­tured in the district dur­ing his 2012 re-elec­tion. Democrats en­joy a bet­ter than 2-to-1 reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tage. Sar­banes, son of for­mer Sen. Paul Sar­banes, has more than five times as much cash on hand as Plas­ter.

But Plas­ter hopes to make in­roads by not­ing the de­lays vet­er­ans en­dure for med­i­cal care, slow eco­nomic growth and the na­tion’s byzan­tine fed­eral tax code.

He has crit­i­cized Sar­banes for op­pos­ing leg­is­la­tion ap­proved by the GOP-led House on Sept. 14 to make it eas­ier for the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs to fire un­der­per­form­ing em­ploy­ees.

Democrats sup­ported some pro­vi­sions of the bill, but raised ques­tions about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of oth­ers. It passed 310-116, with 69 Democrats join­ing all Repub­li­cans in sup­port.

“John is play­ing games with this. He votes for things that are win­dow dress­ing — they’re not real so­lu­tions,” Plas­ter said in an in­ter­view. “Typ­i­cal politi­cian: not solv­ing the prob­lem.”

Sar­banes said that the leg­is­la­tion amounts to an “ide­o­log­i­cal at­tack” on fed­eral em­ploy­ees by en­cour­ag­ing the depart­ment to fire work­ers “with­out cause or due process.” The 3rd District, which me­an­ders from Bal­ti­more County to Mont­gomery County, is home to many fed­eral em­ploy­ees.

“From day one, I’ve main­tained a strong pres­ence in all of the com­mu­ni­ties that I rep­re­sent and I’ve worked tire­lessly on be­half of Mary­lan­ders in the Third District,” Sar­banes said in a state­ment.

He also noted his stand­ing as a na­tional spokesman in fa­vor of over­haul­ing cam­paign fi­nance laws.

“I’ve been lis­ten­ing to peo­ple across Mary­land and around the coun­try who are fed up with the amount of money in our pol­i­tics and who feel like Con­gress isn’t lis­ten­ing to them,” he said.

Plas­ter main­tains an ad­dress and is reg­is­tered to vote in the district, but ac­knowl­edges spend­ing most of his time at a home in the Anne Arun­del County com­mu­nity of Har­wood, lo­cated in the neigh­bor­ing 5th Con­gres­sional District. He lists the Har­wood home as his prin­ci­pal res­i­dence for prop­erty tax pur­poses.

Asked if that is a po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity, Plas­ter said: “It’s such a ger­ry­man­dered district, no­body even knows if they’re in or out of the district.”

Plas­ter was work­ing at Saint Fran­cis Hos­pi­tal in Wilm­ing­ton when Bi­den came to the emer­gency room in 1988. Plas­ter did not per­form the surg­eries that ul­ti­mately saved Bi­den’s life, but he did help co­or­di­nate the ini­tial care.

Bi­den wrote ex­ten­sively about the health scare in his 2007 book “Prom­ises to Keep.”

In Western Mary­land, the race be­tween two-term in­cum­bent De­laney and Hoe­ber has grown in­creas­ingly testy. A su­per PAC sup­port­ing Hoe­ber — and funded by her hus­band — is run­ning a broad­cast tele­vi­sion ad crit­i­ciz­ing De­laney for in­vest­ments made by the bank he over­saw be­fore his elec­tion. De­laney re­sponded with an ad de­scrib­ing Hoe­ber as an “an ex­treme tea party par­ti­san.”

De­laney won re-elec­tion in 2014 by less than 3,000 votes. Both De­laney and Hoe­ber live just out­side the district, which in­cludes por­tions of Mont­gomery and Fred­er­ick coun­ties, as well as the Mary­land pan­han­dle.

Though De­laney has de­nied hav­ing de­signs on higher of­fice, many be­lieve he is eye­ing a run for gov­er­nor in 2018. If true, De­laney would ben­e­fit from a strong show­ing in the Nov. 8 elec­tion.

Con­versely, an­other tight race could ham­per am­bi­tions for statewide of­fice.

Hoe­ber said her mil­i­tary back­ground mo­ti­vated her to run.

“I was trig­gered by my re­al­iza­tion that things were just get­ting worse every day in the na­tional se­cu­rity busi­ness,” Hoe­ber said as she cam­paigned at a rainy Ok­to­ber­fest in Fred­er­ick on Satur­day. “I think we’ve lost a lot of re­spect around the world.”

De­laney spokesman Will McDon­ald said the in­cum­bent isn’t tak­ing the con­test for granted. He also held mul­ti­ple cam­paign events through­out the district over the week­end.

“John be­lieves that there’s only one way to run, and that’s to fight for every vote, on every block, in every ZIP code,” McDon­ald said.

Though Trump has trailed Clin­ton sig­nif­i­cantly in two statewide polls, Plas­ter and Hoe­ber have both em­braced the GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee. Still, nei­ther have been as en­thu­si­as­tic as McDonough.

The state law­maker has crit­i­cized Rup­pers­berger on im­mi­gra­tion, na­tional se­cu­rity, the Iran nu­clear agree­ment and other is­sues.

McDonough pre­dicts Trump will per­form well in the 2nd Con­gres­sional District, and help carry him to vic­tory, too.

Trump had lunch in a pop­u­lar diner in the district last month af­ter speak­ing to a group in Bal­ti­more.

“Trump’s strength in my district is stronger than what peo­ple be­lieve it to be,” McDonough said.

“I’m a surfer on two surf­boards. The Ho­gan wave never went away.”

If he is right, then Rup­pers­berger, who won re-elec­tion in 2014 with more than 61 per­cent of the vote, is read­ing his district wrong. His cam­paign has emailed fundrais­ing so­lic­i­ta­tions crit­i­ciz­ing McDonough’s em­u­la­tions of Trump.

“No­body likes a copy­cat,” one email read. “And be­ing just like Don­ald Trump is noth­ing to brag about.”

A Rup­pers­berger cam­paign spokes­woman, Jaime Len­non, said her boss is run­ning a cam­paign based on a record of con­stituent ser­vice and “com­mon sense” leg­is­la­tion.

“He thinks it’s about your record,” Len­non said, “and not the neg­a­tive rhetoric that seems to oc­cur at elec­tion time.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.