Maryland Democrats looking to extend their dominance in state politics during this year’s congressional redistricting appear to have settled on a primary target — forcing out 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett from his Western Maryland seat.
Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly next month will redraw congressional districts based on new census numbers, but bootleg maps already show them reworking the 85-year-old congressman’s conservative district to their advantage.
“Democrats know the seat will be open soon enough, so why not now through redistricting?” said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “According to the redistricting maps circulating now, there’s no way Roscoe Bartlett will win re-election.”
Mr. Bartlett has held the 6th District seat since 1993 and has won each of his past two elections by 20 percentage points, but Democrats say the congressman’s age, low profile and the changing demographics of his district give them a good opportunity to add to their 6-to-2 edge in congressional seats.
Mr. Bartlett has filed for re-election and said Wednesday that he has every intention to run for an 11th term.
“As long as I have good health and the constituents give me their vote, then I’m serving,” he said. “I think that we’ve been effective in serving the constituents in the 6th District, and with their support we’d like to continue.”
Mr. O’Malley will propose a map in coming weeks that will be considered by the assembly during a special session that begins Oct. 17. None of the maps circulating, including the ones seen by Mr. Wasserman, is official.
The governor will base his map on recommendations made by a five-member redistricting committee, which this month wrapped up a series of public hearings throughout the state.
Partisan politics ‘drive everything’
While Mr. O’Malley and state officials have promised a transparent process focused on accurate representation and diversity, redistricting is typically a partisan fight for land — which allows Maryland’s Democratic majority to largely control the process.
Partisan politics “drive everything” in redistricting, said Todd Eberly, the coordinator of public-policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “If we were in a state controlled by Republicans, they would do everything they can to do the same thing.”
Mr. Eberly said he is certain that Democratic leaders will go after a seventh congressional seat, and that Mr. Bartlett’s age and the geography of his district make him a more vulnerable target than the state’s other Republican congressman, first-term Rep. Andrew P. Harris, whose 5th District consists largely of the state’s conservative Eastern Shore.
The state’s current map, drawn in 2001, helped Democrats in 2002 to gain two seats by ousting eight-term Republican Rep. Connie Morella in favor of Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat, and allowing Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, to win a seat vacated by gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican.
Mr. Bartlett’s district spans nearly all of the state’s western region — Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties — as well as northern sections of Baltimore and Harford counties.
The new map is not expected to include the largely conservative Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties, and could exclude a section of Frederick County. A larger portion of traditionally Democratic northern Montgomery County would be added.
Potential challenger in waiting
One interested observer is state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola, a Montgomery Democrat whose Germantown home might be included in the district so he can challenge Mr. Bartlett.
Mr. Garagiola, 39, who after two terms leads his party’s 35-member Senate delegation, serves on the powerful Finance Committee and is considered by many colleagues to be a rising political star.
He added to such speculation in August when he attended a Democratic Party event in Washington County — in the heart of District 6 — and told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that he was closely watching the mapping process.
“Right now, it’s not a competitive district,” Mr. Garagiola said, adding that a new map with more Democrats “changes the dynamic quite a bit.”
He did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
State Sen. Ronald N. Young, Frederick Democrat, said he expects the final map will be decided almost entirely by Mr. O’Malley and the redistricting committee’s two most powerful members — Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat.
“Those three have the most influence,” he said. “When we get down there, it’s probably going to be pretty much voting for it or not. I can’t imagine us having a big say in things.”
Mr. Bartlett’s lackluster fundraising numbers this year also have added to speculation about his future. He has just $72,700, according to June 30 federal filings, compared with $154,000 for Mr. Van Hollen and $1.2 million for House Minority Whip Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.
While Mr. Bartlett has strung together landslide victories throughout his time in the House without heavy fundraising, Mr. Young and other Democrats say his popularity is waning in the district because of his age and a growing number of Democrats moving into Frederick County.
Mr. Bartlett declined to assess his chances in next year’s race, but he said it will largely come down to how the district is drawn. He added that Democrats could have a hard time drawing the district without upsetting minority constituents, who worry about losing their Democratic representation.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People raised concerns in August that black residents in majority-black districts represented by Reps. Donna F. Edwards and Elijah E. Cummings, both Democrats, could have their influence diluted if they are spread across multiple districts.
Mappers also could have a hard time getting House members to go along with changes that could hurt their own re-election chances, Mr. Eberly said.
Any Democratic voters moved into Mr. Bartlett’s district likely would come from the districts represented by Mr. Van Hollen (8th) and Miss Edwards (4th). Republicans extracted from the district potentially could enter the districts of other Democratic incumbents.
“If the politicians’ will is there, they could absolutely pull it off,” Mr. Eberly said. “It’s an art form, but I have no doubt they will find a way to do it.”