R. David Harden spent years building economies overseas during his time with the foreign service. Now, the foreign policy strategist wants to do so in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.
Harden told Maryland Matters that he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for a chance to unseat U.S. Rep Andrew P. Harris in 2022, adding to an already crowded Democratic field. His planned congressional bid was first reported by A Miner Detail.
Harden is the founder and managing director of the Georgetown Strategy Group, a consulting outfit that represents technology and financial firms from the Middle East to “promote trade and investment, advance security and stability, develop economic opportunity, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the Middle East and Africa,” according to the group’s website.
Prior to founding the strategy group, Harden was a senior Foreign Service officer and spent 17 years in the Middle East and other parts of Asia. He said he spent much of that time focused on economic development and trade – and thinks he could apply that knowledge to make Maryland’s first congressional district an economic powerhouse.
The district has lagged behind in terms of economic development during Harris’ tenure, Harden said.
“Frankly, we lost a decade with Andy Harris,” Harden said. “If you look where we are right now, and you look at a number of metrics, we are simply poorer, sicker, less protected and more divided.”
Harris’ actions during and after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol motivated Harden to run. He added that he thinks Harris is “particularly vulnerable” after Jan. 6.
Harris was among the nearly 150 Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s win after the insurrection, and reportedly almost got into a fight with Rep. Colin Alred (D-Texas) in the early hours of Jan. 7.
Harden isn’t the only Democrat vying for a chance to unseat Harris: Heather Mizeur, a former gubernatorial candidate and state delegate, has also announced a 1st district bid. Like Harden, Mizeur cited Harris’ actions during and after the insurrection as influencing her decision to run.
Mia Mason, a veteran who challenged Harris in 2020, has also said she’ll run again. In a January email to supporters, Mason said her campaign “brought in an abundance of new voters” and said she wants to keep her momentum going into 2022.
Running as a Democrat in the 1st District, which covers the Eastern Shore plus portions of Harford, Baltimore and Carroll counties, is a challenge: The district is largely conservative, and Harris has handily won reelection since he took office in 2011. Harden estimates that he’ll need to raise $2 million and take at least 35,000 voters from Harris’ camp to unseat the six-term Republican.
Harden said he plans to “run down the middle” and try to appeal to both progressives and conservatives. It won’t be hard for him to tout a bipartisan track record to voters: He was appointed by President Barack Obama, and subsequently confirmed by a bipartisan vote in the Senate, to serve as the assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance in 2016.
And in 2019, Harden received the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service, the highest award in the foreign service, from President Donald Trump. Harden retired from the Foreign Service in 2018, and said he found it “difficult” to represent the United States abroad under the Trump administration.
Many of his years overseas were spent building infrastructure and business to help grow economies across the globe, Harden said. He hopes to pitch that economic experience to voters and lay out ways to modernize the 1st district.
Harden wants to turn Maryland’s Eastern Shore into a “proving ground” for technologies meant to cut back on climate change, and hopes that modernizing the district with widespread broadband would spur local business and development.
“I’ve learned a lot, and I’m bringing it home,” he said. “The economic perspective that I bring, none of the people that are in this race have that.”
Whether the district’s boundaries will remain the same after redistricting isn’t clear. Harden, a Westminster resident, lives in the far Western portion of the district. He noted that, with the Census data used to draw district boundaries delayed by COVID-19, it isn’t clear when new lines will be drawn. He said his family has lived in the state’s 1st congressional district for “many generations.”