- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

ANNAPOLIS State Sen. Robert J. Garagiola, Montgomery Democrat, has taken an official first step toward challenging GOPRep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in the state’s newly configured 6th Congressional District, and on Thursday criticized the 85-year-old incumbent for not being more responsive to constituents.

“People I’m talking to don’t really feel that they have an effective advocate for the district,” he said.

Mr. Garagiola’s comments came days after registering a campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission and on the same day Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed legislation approving Maryland’s new congressional map. Other Democrats also began to make noises Thursday about getting into the race.

Republicans suggest state Democrats recruited Mr. Garagiola and intentionally crafted a map to give their party an advantage in Mr. Bartlett’s largely conservative Western Maryland district. But Mr. Garagiola, 39, said many constituents and business leaders in the 6th District have told him they are ready to replace Mr. Bartlett — a sparse fundraiser who has kept a low profile over the past several years.

“He’s not been around, he’s not been in the community, and I think there’s a hunger for change,” Mr. Garagiola said. “He’s just not been very effective.”

In addition, former Montgomery County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg has announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination. “I will win the Democratic nomination for Congress because the Annapolis insiders and old-school politicians have already lost,” she wrote on her website.

Former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan is seriously considering a run for the nomination, according to Roll Call, citing state Democratic sources. The publication also reports insiders say former state Delegate Mark Shriver, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002, is the subject of speculation and that some activists are hoping that he runs in the reconfigured district. However, his level of interest remains unclear.

The map — approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly during a special session this week, then delivered to Mr. O’Malley — adds the western half of liberal-dominated Montgomery County, including Mr. Garagiola’s Germantown home, and eliminates conservative sections of Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Harford counties.

“It’s been made a lot tougher,” said state Sen. George C. Edwards, Garrett Republican. “But it’s not a done deal that a Democrat is going to win the district.”

Republican sources contend Mr. Garagiola has a voting record of supporting tax increases that could be exploited and that Mr. Bartlett, as an incumbent, will be hard to beat.

Mr. Bartlett has filed for re-election and as recently as Wednesday repeated he still plans to run next year. But his age and recent fundraising totals, including just $1,000 in the most recent quarter, have led many observers to expect he will retire rather than run in a largely new, less receptive district.

“The incumbent congressperson is 80-plus years of age and hasn’t raised money,” said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s Democrat. “Most people, Republicans and Democrats, if you ask them, anticipate that he’s not going to run, even though he says he is. We like him very much, and he’s a nice person, but it’s a competitive district. Either a Republican or Democrat can win it.”

Mr. Miller said he expects state and national Republicans to fight for the district, pouring money and campaign time into the race, especially if another Republican runs in Mr. Bartlett’s place.

David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for Cook Political Report, said national Republicans want badly to keep the seat, but could prove reluctant to campaign for Mr. Bartlett if he stays in the race and manages to win the party’s primary.

“It’s going to be very difficult for a well-known loner in Congress from Western Maryland to adapt to the Montgomery County suburbs and run a winning race,” said Mr. Wasserman, who characterized Mr. Bartlett as the “underdog” in what is now “a Democratic-leaning district.”

“It’s going to be hard for [national] Republicans to rationalize spending lots of money on D.C. television to save Bartlett,” he said.

Still, Washington Republicans threw their full support Thursday behind Mr. Bartlett.

“When it comes to lowering taxes and cutting spending, Roscoe Bartlett is exactly what voters want in Congress,” said Tory Mazzola, press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee. NRCC officials also emphasized the group’s unwavering support for incumbents.

State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, Washington Republican, said state party members will support Mr. Bartlett “with every fiber of their being,” but acknowledged Western Maryland GOP leaders are watching closely to see whether he stays in the race.

Mr. Shank said he has not ruled out running for Congress if Mr. Bartlett retires. He also said several other state legislators could also be up to the task, including Sen. David R. Brinkley of Frederick County, Delegate LeRoy E. Myers Jr. of Washington County and Frederick Board of County Commissioners President Blaine R. Young.

“It would take a year of tireless campaigning,” Mr. Shank said. “There is no doubt whatsoever that no matter who the Republican nominee is, we will contest this race with every fiber of our being and, hopefully, put up a strong candidate.”