Maryland’s 6th District has long been a friendly home field for Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, but he might have to win on the road if he wants to hold on to his seat this fall.
The 10-term Republican incumbent hopes to win re-election against Democratic upstart John K. Delaney, but he will have to campaign in a district that was redrawn by state Democrats last fall to add much of western Montgomery County.
Mr. Bartlett, 85, cruised to victory in the April 4 GOP primary, but he struggled in Montgomery County, which is largely Democratic and has a Republican population relatively unfamiliar with the congressman.
Montgomery is also home to Mr. Delaney, a wealthy businessman who will look to lock down support in the county — now home to about 50 percent of 6th District residents after accounting for just 3 percent of its residents 10 years ago.
Democrats now hold a voter registration edge in the long-conservative district. Political analysts and even Mr. Bartlett say he must make inroads in Montgomery if he expects to win one of the nation’s most anticipated House races.
“I’m told it’s going to be one of the 10 top races in the country,” Mr. Bartlett said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of getting acquainted with the new voters in Montgomery County. We’ll be working very hard, and we’ll do everything we can.”
The campaign has shaped up much differently than many observers predicted last fall, when Mr. Bartlett was dogged by retirement rumors and fundraising concerns and the likely Democratic nominee was state Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Garagiola — the candidate whom state Democratic leaders had in mind when they redrew the district map to help Democrats win a seventh of the state’s eight House seats.
Since then, Mr. Bartlett has upped his fundraising and received support from national Republicans, while Mr. Delaney has sunk more than $1 million of his own money into a decisive win over Mr. Garagiola.
While Mr. Bartlett seeks to run on his experience and knowledge of the district, Mr. Delaney — who has never run for political office — hopes to paint him as an out-of-touch Capitol Hill insider.
The Delaney campaign released a poll last week showing him with a 9-percentage-point lead over Mr. Bartlett.
Although the poll was internal, it was conducted by the respected Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, which almost perfectly predicted Mr. Delaney’s 25-point primary win a week before the election.
“People want jobs and to have someone who is more independent-minded and an outsider,” Mr. Delaney said recently. “We’ve had the same message from the beginning, and I think so far our feedback from voters is proving that.”
The race could be a virtual tossup come November. The Cook Political Report says the district has a slight Democratic lean with Montgomery voters likely to tip the balance.
Mr. Bartlett will look to improve on his primary performance, when he netted just 34.5 percent of votes from Montgomery Republicans — nine points less than his smallest share elsewhere and nine points less than the 43.6 percent he earned throughout the district.
Meanwhile, Mr. Delaney polled at 52.9 percent in Montgomery and 54.2 percent throughout the district in a less crowded Democratic race.
Montgomery “is going to be a problem area for Roscoe,” said Todd Eberly, coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “He’s never represented that area and he’s going to have to introduce himself, which he made no effort to do during the primary.”
Mr. Bartlett said he hopes to energize the turnout of Montgomery Republicans and perhaps win a few Democratic votes along the way.
He downplayed any fundraising disadvantage he might have, saying that he plans to spend just enough money to win.
“Once you get your message out, you’ve got your message out,” he said. “If you hammer on the electorate for too long, you turn them off.”
Despite the obstacles, Mr. Bartlett does have some factors in his favor, including several ballot measures.
The state plans to hold a November referendum on the Dream Act, which would allow in-state tuition for college-age illegal immigrants. Republicans have heavily criticized the plan.
Voters also will likely decide whether to legalize same-sex marriage, and Republicans are pushing for a referendum to repeal the new congressional map, which has made the 6th District competitive and has angered many conservatives.
These lightning-rod issues could boost Republican participation at polls above levels during the 6th District primary, when GOP voters outnumbered Democrats.
“The wild card here is the ballot initiatives,” Mr. Eberly said. “I think it is so unprecedented that such high-profile issues are on the ballot, that it’s hard to predict their effect.”