For the past several years, congressional elections in Maryland’s 6th District have been among the most expensive in the nation. That’s largely due to the presence of self-funders on the ballot — including the current congressman, U.S. Rep. David Trone (D), who is using his fortune this election cycle to run for an open U.S. Senate seat.
But with Trone seeking greener pastures, the race to replace him in Maryland’s most competitive congressional district has been strikingly devoid of big money, as relatively junior officeholders and a corps of political unknowns scramble to collect campaign cash.
That’s about to change.
With the recent entry of philanthropist and former U.S. Commerce Department official April McLain Delaney into the Democratic primary, the race now has a candidate who is personally wealthy. Her husband, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D), spent liberally and strategically during his first run for the 6th District seat, upsetting the Democratic establishment choice in the primary and then ousting the 10-term Republican incumbent in 2012.
April Delaney has not specifically said she plans to self-fund her race, so far emphasizing her humble roots as the daughter of an indefatigable potato farmer in Idaho and her history as a working mother.
“April has a unique set of life experiences that will make her a hands-on, effective, thoughtful and compassionate Member of Congress,” the campaign says on the website home page. “Drawing on a blend of public and private sector work, April is committed to addressing challenges through a ‘common sense, common ground’ approach.”
But the expectation among many of her opponents and political strategists is that Delaney will inevitably draw from the family fortune.
While the latest entrant into the Republican primary, former state Del. Dan Cox, wasn’t a stellar fundraiser as the GOP nominee for governor in 2022, he brings a high-profile presence to the contest and close ties to former President Trump and his political network that could lead to more campaign contributions than the Republican race has seen thus far. Some Democratic candidates, in fact, are trying to use Cox’s presence in the race as a fundraising tool.
Then there’s always the possibility that more candidates could enter the race, in both primaries. Former Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D), once seen as a natural frontrunner, is now expected to pass on the contest. But other Democrats may still be pondering.
On the GOP side, Del. Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany), the House minority leader in Annapolis, who has considered the race in both 2022 and this year, told Maryland Matters on Tuesday that he will not be a candidate.
“For some reasons that are personal and idiosyncratic, I’ve concluded that 2024 is not my window to run,” the 52-year-old lawmaker said. “I don’t rule it out in the future.”
Buckel said he had to weigh his family responsibilities, his obligations to his law practice and his commitment to lead the Republican caucus in Annapolis with any political ambitions. He also predicted that, in the district, Republicans would have trouble outrunning former President Trump, who seems the likely GOP nominee for president in 2024.
A Daily Kos analysis of the 6th District concluded that under its current boundaries, which were adopted for the 2022 election, President Biden would have taken 53.9% of the vote in the district in 2020, compared to 44.8% for Trump.
Former Del. Neil C. Parrott (R-Washington), the 6th District GOP nominee in 2020 and 2022, is exploring the race and has a campaign fundraising committee open, but hasn’t formally joined the contest.
Even considering The Daily Kos analysis, the 6th District is far and away Maryland’s most competitive. Two nonpartisan election handicapping organizations, The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, currently put the race in the “Likely Democratic” category; it’s the only Maryland House contest that even rates a mention by the national political analysts.
Up to now, the candidates to replace Trone have largely struggled to raise money — and that impacts how the candidates connect with voters, and vice-versa. Through Sept. 30, Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery), a 26-year-old lawmaker who is in his first year in the House of Delegates, led the Democratic field in fundraising, collecting $252,812 since he became a candidate in May.
Tom Royals, a Navy veteran and business development manager, led the Republican field, pulling in $102,537 since joining the race during the summer.
To put these figures in context, Trone spent more than $13 million of his own money to win reelection in 2022. According to Open Secrets, a nonprofit national organization that tracks money in politics, a congressional candidate who made it to the general election in the 2022 cycle spent an average of $1.8 million per race — and two-thirds of those contests weren’t competitive. In this year’s high-stakes battle for control of the Virginia General Assembly, candidates in some races for state Senate spent in the neighborhood of $10 million collectively, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a government watchdog.
Vogel reported raising $136,863 between July 1 and Sept. 30 and ended the reporting period with $159,439 in his campaign account. Vogel in the second quarter of the year racked up more than a dozen contributions of $1,000 or more, including $2,000 from U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who, like Vogel, is openly gay, and $2,000 from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
Geoffrey Grammer, a psychiatrist and Iraq War veteran, was next on the fundraising front in the Democratic field, though most of the money came from himself. He raised $238,982 in the second quarter of the year — $219,688 from his own pocket — and reported $154,994 in the bank as of Sept. 30.
Although Grammer has had a campaign committee open for several weeks and filed the paperwork with the state to join the race on Oct. 31, he just released an announcement video on Tuesday. Much of the 2-minute video concerns his military service and the work he did in the field treating military personnel with combat trauma.
“Moving our country forward will take the same courage, hard work and compassion,” he says in the ad.
Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez, another Democrat, reported raising $151,069 in her first months as a candidate — almost all of it from small-dollar donations. She had $113,037 on hand as of Sept. 30.
Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery) had raised $104,348 for her campaign through Sept. 30, including $53,297 in the third quarter of the year. She had $49,727 in the bank at the end of the reporting period.
Other fundraising totals on the Democratic side, through Sept. 30:
- Former Obama administration official Ashwani Jain, who has eschewed big-dollar fundraising, raised $20,266 between July 1 and Sept. 30, including $20,000 from his own pocket. He reported $24,344 on hand;
- Foreign policy expert and former Chevy Chase Town Councilmember Joel Rubin reported raising $86,740 and had $50,325 on hand;
- Montgomery County Councilmember Laurie-Anne Sayles had $13,047 in the bank after raising $27,059;
- Destiny Drake West, a former federal agency program specialist, had $2,923 in the bank after raising $8,499 during the reporting period — and $10,090 for the year
Two other Democrats, progressive activist George Gluck, and Stephen McDow, a business consultant, did not report any other fundraising activity to the Federal Election Commission.
On the Republican side, Royals, who may be the closest thing to a GOP establishment candidate in the current primary field, raised a solid chunk of his money from relatives. He also reported a $750 contribution from former U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Mariela Roca, an Air Force veteran and medical logistics specialist who also ran for the seat in 2022, has raised $100,775 this election cycle, including $33,063 between July 1 and Sept. 30. She had $14,911 in her war chest at the end of September.
Chris Hyser, a retired police officer, reported $39,571 in his campaign account after taking in $30,118 during the third quarter of the year, including $15,587 from his own pocket. Overall, he has collected $49,732 for his campaign so far.
Former Del. Brenda J. Thiam (R-Washington), who entered the race in the summer, reported raising $24,221 since becoming a candidate. She had $10,729 in the bank on Sept. 30.
Heath Barnes, the burgess (mayor) of Woodsboro, had $6,696 on hand at the end of September after raising $13,036 since entering the race.
Parrott, the two-time GOP nominee, raised $13,078 between July 1 and Sept. 30 and appears to have used most of the money in his campaign account to pay off debts from previous elections. He spent $44,637 during the three-month period and reported a negative balance in his campaign account, $4,442. Although he has been trying to maintain a high profile on social media, it isn’t clear yet whether he plans to join the 6th District race.