- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2012

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland talks like a man who knows his days in office might be numbered.

The 86-year-old Republican is fighting an uphill battle to keep the seat he has held for 20 years. State Democrats redrew his long-conservative district last year to give their party a voter advantage.

Mr. Bartlett has since been outspent nearly three-to-one by Democratic challenger John Delaney in a district where about half of the residents have never had him as their congressman — circumstances he acknowledges make him a clear underdog in the waning days of the campaign.

“Obviously, a district like this would be a tough district for any Republican,” Mr. Bartlett said recently. “I’m not the incumbent for a lot of these voters. We know it’s a tough fight, and we’re working very hard to get our message out.”

National political analysts have called Mr. Bartlett one of the most vulnerable incumbents in this year’s House elections, due largely to Mr. Delaney’s deep pockets and the drastic redrawing of the 6th Congressional District.

Maryland Democrats — who control the governorship, both chambers of the General Assembly, both U.S. Senate seats and six of the state’s eight congressional seats — have made a clear effort to force out Mr. Bartlett through redistricting.

The state’s new map added much of left-leaning Montgomery County to the congressman’s Western Maryland district, taking its registered voter makeup from 47 percent Republican and 36 percent Democratic in 2010, to 44 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican this year.

“This isn’t the sort of rural base that he was used to,” said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst for The Rothenberg Political Report. “I think the Democrats are really comfortable where this race is and they count it as a pickup. And I think Republicans privately count this as a loss.”

Ms. Taylor said national Republicans have offered little help to Mr. Bartlett beyond their customary donations at the start of the race, fueling speculation that they see the district as a lost cause.

Mr. Delaney, a 49-year-old financier from upscale D.C. suburb Potomac, has spent $3.6 million — about half of which was his own money — in an effort to topple Mr. Bartlett, who has spent just $1.2 million and has long had a reputation as a modest campaigner and fundraiser.

The political newcomer earned the support of state Democrats only after winning April’s Democratic primary, in which he handily beat state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola — the man for whom party leaders supposedly drew the district.

He argues that his business experience can help to settle the nation’s finances, and says he supports the popular Democratic approach of using spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy to help close the federal deficit.

He also says that the government can drive growth and hiring by spending more on infrastructure improvements and raising education standards.

“You need a mix of additional revenue, entitlement reform and spending reductions,” he said at a debate last month. “That’s the only path forward for this country.”

Mr. Bartlett, a tea party member who lives on a farm in Buckeystown, Frederick County, argues that the government needs to lower tax rates, make deeper spending cuts, reduce regulations and “get out of the way and let America heal.”

He touts his ability to reach across the aisle on issues including the environment but acknowledges he is an ardent fiscal conservative.

“We’ve got to solve these problems,” he said, referring to the rising costs of programs including Medicare and Medicaid. “These trends cannot continue. They are unsustainable.”

Despite their fundraising disadvantage and gloom from analysts, Maryland Republicans insist that Mr. Bartlett has a strong chance at winning re-election.

They also received some good news this week when a poll conducted by OpinionWorks and commissioned by The Baltimore Sun showed Mr. Delaney leading the race by the slimmest of margins, 42 percent to 41 percent.

State GOP executive director David Ferguson said he thinks voters favor Mr. Bartlett’s experience, and that many of them are turned off by the way Democrats sought to shift the balance of power in the district.

“You can be outspent, but 20 years of service to the district and the relationships you’ve built across the state are invaluable,” he said. “Democrats have had to go to the most extreme lengths of gerrymandering to get rid of Congressman Bartlett, but the people will have a clear choice.”

Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Mr. Delaney holds the edge, but Mr. Bartlett could benefit from this year’s ballot.

Maryland will hold referendums next week on issues including same-sex marriage, expanded gambling and tuition breaks for illegal immigrants, all of which could draw increased turnout from disapproving conservatives.

“I still would say Delaney has the advantage,” Mr. Eberly said. “But those ballot initiatives could be just enough to carry Bartlett over the finish line.”