Maryland House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell said Wednesday he plans to keep his state leadership role while running for Congress next year despite questions about whether his candidacy could be a distraction.
Mr. O’Donnell, Calvert Republican, announced this week that he will run in the 5th Congressional District against Democratic House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
Mr. O’Donnell, who has been the state’s House minority leader since 2007, acknowledges that beating the 16-term incumbent will be difficult, especially in Democratic-leaning Maryland.
“No matter how difficult a task may be, anything worth accomplishing is worth working hard for,” he said. “Yes, it’s difficult, but I view Steny Hoyer as a major part of the problem as to why America is on the wrong track right now.”
Mr. O’Donnell said he plans to attack the congressman’s voting record as being far more liberal than the leanings of his largely rural Southern Maryland constituency.
Mr. Hoyer, 72, was elected to Congress in 1981 and has won landslide victories in essentially every term, including a 30-percentage-point victory last year over Republican Charles Lollar. Registered Democrats in his district outnumber Republicans by a more than 2-1 margin, according to state voter-registration records.
Mr. O’Donnell, 50, likely will be a heavy underdog but could be Mr. Hoyer’s most credible challenger in many years. He is the first elected state official to run against Mr. Hoyer since 1996.
The congressman “is right at the top of why America is struggling,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “He claims to support the defense industry but racks up national debt that threatens our national security.”
Mr. O’Donnell was elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1994. This year, he led a Republican House caucus that gained six seats during last year’s elections and voraciously fought several key Democratic proposals, challenging the chamber’s long-held reputation as being more liberal than Senate.
House Republicans played a major role in killing a same-sex marriage bill that had passed the Senate with surprising ease. And several delegates led a successful effort to suspend the Dream Act - which would allow many illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates - and send it to a 2012 referendum.
The House Republican Caucus would have to re-elect Mr. O’Donnell next year as minority leader, but he could receive a challenge from Delegate Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Cecil Republican who has criticized him for taking “inconsistent positions” on such issues as the use of bond bills for local projects.
Mr. Smigiel, chairman of the House tea party caucus, said he is still mulling a run for minority leader and suggested Mr. O’Donnell step down - following the example of former Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, who quit her leadership role in October after deciding it “wouldn’t be fair” to continue as leader while mounting a campaign for higher office.
Mrs. Jacobs, Harford Republican, announced this month that she may run for Congress next year against Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
“Delegate O’Donnell has had a good run and been leader for many years,” Mr. Smigiel said. “I don’t see where there would be any downside to him letting one of the many other qualified people step up to a leadership role.”
Mr. O’Donnell defended his desire to remain as leader, saying his performance as a lawmaker and candidate will not suffer. He added that Mr. Hoyer also will have to balance campaign duties with his role as the House’s second-ranking Democrat.
“We both have leadership roles and will both run spirited campaigns,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “I have received strong support from my colleagues.”