By Russell Berman - 10/14/12 10:00 AM EDT
FREDERICK, Md. – Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) is a heavy underdog in his bid for an 11th House term, and he knows it all too well.
Democratic legislators in deep-blue Maryland redrew the 6th district in the state’s northwest corner to their advantage, instantly making Bartlett one of the most imperiled Republicans in Congress.
The 86-year-old Bartlett, a scientist by training and the second-oldest member of the House, can recite the math from memory: Democrats now outnumber Republicans in the district by more than 40,000 voters.
In other words, if the district votes by party, Bartlett is done.
“I hope that’s not the issue. If that’s the issue, he wins,” he said in an interview as he sat in a spare campaign office that he rents just a flight up the stairs from his congressional headquarters in Frederick. “We hope the issue is, which direction do you want your country to go in, and do you think Roscoe Bartlett will take you there more certainly than Delaney would?”
By running for another term at 86 instead of retiring, he suggested he was simply stepping up for his party.
“I’m running now not because I needed an 11th term in Congress,” Bartlett said. “This is a really challenging seat, and there just wasn’t another Republican that had any chance of winning the race.”
How aggressively Bartlett is actually campaigning is another question.
The biggest headlines he has drawn over the last month have focused on his head-scratching reference to the Holocaust in the course of answering a question on the federal subsidization of student loans at a forum in early September. Bartlett quickly apologized.
Over the last week, he held no publicly-promoted events, and his campaign would not provide his public schedule to a reporter. Bartlett said he held town halls through his congressional office, but there was no mention of them on his official web site or Facebook page.
“We’ve been out there,” Bartlett said, dismissing questions about his campaign schedule.
Over the same period, Delaney held three events to announce the launch of separate advisory councils for women, Latino and African American supporters.
Bartlett’s campaign announced Thursday that he had accepted invitations to six debates over the last month of the campaign. Delaney’s campaign has said he would attend 12, a suggestion that drew a laugh from the incumbent. “I didn’t even know 12 people were asking for debates,” Bartlett quipped.
Delaney, 49, founded a commercial lending bank in Maryland, CapitalSource, and a nonprofit aimed at boosting private sector job creation. With a personal fortune of more than $50 million, he used a combination of more than $1 million of his own money and significant outside contributions to upend Garagiola, the frontrunner in the Democratic primary who had received endorsements from Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 House Democrat.
Delaney got a boost from former President Bill Clinton, who repaid Delaney with an endorsement after the entrepreneur raised money for his wife’s presidential campaign in 2008. Clinton plans to return to the district next week for another event with Delaney, the campaign said.
The Democrat has run as the favorite, buoyed by projections from political analysts that the race is his to lose. Neither national party has invested heavily, a signal they don’t believe it to be a close race to this point.
Delaney has focused on core Democratic constituencies in the left-leaning new areas of the district. The advisory councils he has formed are part of what he calls “a partnership model” of governing, but they serve equally to introduce himself to voters and make sure the party base turns out for him.
“He’s doing all the things that he needs to do to make sure that he gets the win on Nov. 6. He’s not taking any of the district for granted,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), an early supporter of Delaney’s who attended the launch of his African American council. “Clearly it’s about turning out the base,” she said of his strategy, “but it’s also about John’s ability to get out into some areas of the district where they haven’t heard a different kind of message.”
Bartlett’s campaign has hit Delaney for failing to vote in two elections, and Delaney has faced questions as a Democrat running on his finance record at the same time as party leaders are hammering Republican president nominee Mitt Romney for his.
In response, Delaney has talked about his modest upbringing as the son of an electrical worker who earned a union scholarship to go to college.
“I embrace my business, and I think it stands for what I stand for. I can’t say whether [Romney’s] done that with his business or not,” Delaney said in an interview. “I don’t think it’s fair to demonize business. I don’t think it’s fair to say, though, that the president’s campaign has demonized business.”
Democrats say Bartlett’s conservative voting record is simply too far right for the new district, criticizing his stances on federal spending and immigration, among other issues. A former professor who holds 20 patents, Bartlett has also gained notice as a “survivalist” who advocates that people prepare their families for a calamity and even move out of cities.
At a pair of events this week in Gaithersburg, Delaney barely mentioned the incumbent, instead talking up his support for President Obama and his record as a businessman.
Asked about Bartlett in an interview, he said the Republican favors “a kind of dismantling of the federal government ... which I just disagree with.” And he said Bartlett had failed to work with leaders of his overwhelmingly Democratic state.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction about his service to his constituents,” Delaney said. “Has he really been there, fighting the fight, partnering with people across the state, partnering with our senators to make a difference? And I think that’s been lacking.”
Bartlett disputed Delaney’s characterization, citing his longstanding support for green energy programs. “I do reach across the aisle. I am by far and away the greenest Republican,” Bartlett said. He brought up his friendship with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Maryland native who asked Bartlett to sit next to her during Obama’s State of the Union address in 2011.
Reminded that the liberal former Speaker was now trying to turn him out of office, Bartlett was in a forgiving mood. “That’s not personal,” he said. “They would rather not have had to come after Roscoe. It was the only option they had.”
As for his own chances, Bartlett made no bold predictions. “All you can do is all you can do,” he said, “and that’s what we’ve done.”