Redistricting in Maryland imperils longtime Congressional Republican

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Democrats have an uphill battle to take control of the House of Representatives in November. But one bright spot for the party is in Maryland's 6th Congressional District.

State Democrats redrew the district's boundaries, and now it favors their party. That leaves 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in trouble.

"My opponent is a member of the Tea Party, which is an organization that came to Washington to do nothing — to defeat everything they try to get done," Democrat John Delaney charged at Wednesday's debate in Hagerstown. "I want to go to Washington and get things done," said Delaney, as his supporters cheered.

Bartlett responded: "I joined the Tea Party because I thought that what they wanted to do was what America needed, and that is to focus on the Constitution."

At 86, there's no indication that Bartlett is changing the political views he has shown in Congress for two decades to match his new constituency. That's fine with conservative voters in the western part of the district, which encompasses the far western part of the state.

"I like that he's a family man and I like that he is consistent with what he stands for," says Republican Hannah Dickerson of Hagerstown. "I'm definitely pro-life — so I want somebody that believes in that."

The Washington Post had this to say about the redrawn district: "Until now the state's most Republican district, it becomes majority Democratic. Adds minorities, mostly from District 8 and Montgomery County, pushes the white share of population down 21 percentage points. It loses people to Frederick and Carroll."

Bartlett is one of only two Republicans from Maryland in Congress; both of the state's senators are Democrats, as are six of its eight House members.

Delaney, 49, is the wealthy co-founder and chairman of CapitalSource, a commercial lender.

Democrats in Hagerstown have grown accustomed to being the minority. But now some are looking forward to a win in November.

"Although I don't know that much about Delaney, anything is better than Roscoe," says Democrat Donald Johnson. "I'm looking forward to him having a difficult climb since they redistricted."

Most here agree it will be difficult for Bartlett to get re-elected, though there's been little public polling in the race to back that up. Still, the race is being closely watched.

"It really sets up the fundamental battle between the old district and the new district. Bartlett looks like the old district," says Don Kettl, dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. "The voters will have to decide if Delaney looks like the new one."

In an interview with NPR, Bartlett had this to say about his opponent: "Not only does Mr. Delaney not live in the district, he doesn't even vote frequently."

Delaney's campaign says he didn't vote in two elections in the past decade and that he lives just 300 yards outside the district boundary, a fact that doesn't disqualify him from running.

On the campaign trail, Delaney prefers to focus on his experience as a successful businessman. To make sure voters learn about him in television ads, Delaney has raised more than $3 million — half of it his own money. Bartlett raised only about a third that amount.

The discussion over how redistricting was handled by Democrats in Maryland is not over. Republicans succeeded in putting a question on the ballot, asking voters if they approve of the new boundaries, but even if voters reject them, that won't help Bartlett. In that case, the new boundaries would remain in place until the 2014 election.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio.

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