- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

CUMBERLAND, Md. — Ken Winters might be the exact kind of voter that state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola will have to win over — or win in spite of — to unseat Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett next year in the 6th Congressional District.

“I like Roscoe,” Mr. Winters, a Cumberland resident, said moments before Mr. Garagiola, Montgomery Democrat, arrived Tuesday to speak with supporters. “I don’t think they should mix Montgomery County with a rural district, so they can control what we do.”

Mr. Garagiola formally launched his congressional run Tuesday with stops in Frederick, Germantown, Cumberland and Hagerstown. The Western Maryland territory is largely new to him, as his Germantown home and the western half of Montgomery County were drawn into the district just last month when the General Assembly approved a new congressional map.

The state lawmaker acknowledged he has a strong Democratic base in Montgomery County, but his campaign indeed will rest largely on how well he appeals to Western Maryland’s more rural and conservative voters — a demographic he says he already has experience representing.

“There are a lot of Republicans in upper Montgomery County, believe it or not,” Mr. Garagiola said, referring to those in smaller communities he represents, including Poolesville and Boyds. “I’ve demonstrated that I’ve reached out to those areas over the years, and I’m hoping I can continue to reach out as a congressman.”

It has been widely suspected for months that Mr. Garagiola would challenge Mr. Bartlett, and he has become the second Democrat to formally announce a candidacy.

Former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg is also running. But Mr. Garagiola, 39, has been the most prominently mentioned of Mr. Bartlett’s possible challengers. And he is regarded by many state Democratic leaders as a rising star within the party who could unseat the 10-term, 85-year-old congressman.

Mr. Garagiola spoke mostly to supporters during the tour, which included the stop in Germantown where he gave a 10-minute speech formally announcing his candidacy. His stop in Cumberland, where he chatted with a room full of supporters at an ice cream shop, was 100 miles from his home.

Mr. Garagiola was scheduled to end the tour Tuesday night with a speech at a Democratic Party dinner in Hagerstown.

“I think that someone like Rob can do a lot to bring redevelopment, industry, new tourism and just new ideas,” said Mary Kiraly, a Bethesda resident who also owns a home in Cumberland. “I think Roscoe Bartlett is not the kind of person who is seen a lot around here. I don’t think people here get a lot of benefit from Roscoe Bartlett.”

One potential opponent of Mr. Garagiola’s who was present throughout the day was Republican Robin Ficker, the perennial candidate campaigning for the 6th District seat, who followed the senator to his stops in Germantown and Cumberland.

At each stop, Mr. Ficker and his volunteers held signs, extended about 10 feet in the air, with the phrase “No Gas Tax Hike” — referring to Mr. Garagiola’s support of a potential 15-cents-a-gallon increase on the state’s 23.5-cents-a-gallon gas tax.

The state’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly is expected to consider the increase during next year’s regular session, and Mr. Garagiola this year unsuccessfully proposed a similar increase.

Mr. Ficker blasted the senator for supporting tax increases through his three terms in office, including numerous increases during the assembly’s 2007 special session and a 50-percent increase in the alcohol tax passed this year.

“Jobs and prosperity do not mix very well with large commuter gas-tax hikes,” Mr. Ficker said. “It’s not compassionate to put a big tax on our most productive citizens — those people who are going to work.”

Mr. Garagiola did not speak directly to Mr. Ficker, but defended the tax increases as part of a balanced approach toward balancing the state’s budget with revenue increases and spending cuts. He said the state has cut about $5 billion in spending in recent years.

“We balance our checkbook,” Mr. Garagiola said. “My instinct is not to raise taxes. It’s to live within our means.”