In what amounted to a local Democratic version of this year’s Republican “undercard” debates, three underdog contenders for the District 8 Democratic congressional nomination sought to better define themselves during a joint appearance before party activists Monday.
Appearing before the District 18 Breakfast Club in Silver Spring, former White House aide and congressional aide Will Jawando emphasized his life story—growing up in challenging economic circumstances in Silver Spring’s Long Branch neighborhood—as well as his status as the only African-American in the contest. “With 52 percent people of color in Montgomery County, we have three congressmen who represent us,” Jawando noted, pointing to Reps. Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and John Sarbanes. “All great people—but they’re three white men. So when we have an open seat, that’s when we have to choose to be inclusive.” Van Hollen is giving up the District 8 seat to run for Senate.
David Anderson, an official of a Washington-based internship and seminar program, intensified his efforts to position himself as the most moderate contender in a seven-person race in which most of the candidates have staked out aggressively liberal ground. Previously the only candidate in the District 8 primary to oppose the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, Anderson highlighted Monday his support of the Pacific trade deal—negotiated by the White House but strongly opposed by many left-leaning Democrats. “My starting point is that I’m not a party-line Democrat,” Anderson said. “I’m a progressive, but I call myself a center-left Democrat.”
Joel Rubin emphasized his familiarity with Capitol Hill, where he most recently served as the State Department’s liaison to the House after earlier service as a congressional aide. “I know how to get things done,” he declared. But Rubin, who entered the race less than a month ago, still seemed to be searching for ways to distinguish himself in the crowded field. Often speaking in generalities, Rubin observed: “This is a district where the people have an outsized influence on the way the country does its business on Capitol Hill. I believe strongly that we have to be taking advantage of our opportunities here in this district to shape the national conversation.”
Rubin will have his first chance to face off against the other six Democratic aspirants at next Tuesday’s debate in Bethesda, sponsored by the Montgomery County Women’s Democratic Club. The other candidates—state Dels. Kumar Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews, and state Sen. Jamie Raskin, along with Anderson and Jawando—already have debated twice, with the April 26 primary still almost six months away.
Barve—a former House of Delegates majority leader—as well as Matthews and Raskin had previously made separate appearances before the District 18 Breakfast Club. Those three have been widely seen as comprising the top tier of the Democratic congressional aspirants, with Matthews and Raskin so far outdistancing the rest of the field by a wide margin in the scramble for campaign funds. Jawando’s campaign attracted notice last month when he reported outraising Barve during the third quarter of the year.
Gutierrez, the only Hispanic-American in the contest, was invited to appear Monday with the remaining three candidates, but is currently visiting El Salvador with other Montgomery County officials as part of the county’s sister city relationship with the state of Morazan.
District 8 is centered in Montgomery County, but includes also portions of Frederick and Carroll counties as well. While almost 20 percent of Montgomery County is African-American, only about 12 percent of the overall congressional district is black—and Jawando is making a pitch for millennial voters as well.
“I think diversity and inclusivity matter…and it’s not just racial and ethnic, it’s lived experience, it’s age,” said the 33-year old Jawando, who narrowly lost a bid for state delegate last year. “I’m, the only millennial running here. I think that’s important at a time when we need new leaders in Congress.”
The other candidates in the District 8 Democratic contest range in age from Rubin, 43, to Gutierrez, 73.
Jawando contended his relative youth put him in the best position to accumulate seniority in Congress that would benefit the district, while noting that the top House Democrats—Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer—are in their 70s. “All great people, but we need to invest in the next generation,” he declared.
Age and demographics played into one of the policy differences that emerged among the candidates Monday. “In a primary, about 6 percent of the voters are going to be 18 to 24, and the highest cohort is going to be women over 60,” Anderson noted of District 8. He argued that benefits need to be raised by about $70 per month to help roughly one-third of seniors nationwide who are living almost entirely on Social Security.
But, underscoring his position on the right of the Democratic primary field, Anderson added, “I happen to agree with some Republicans that we should push age eligibility of Social Security by two years”—from 67 to 69, on a gradual basis. “Basically, younger and middle aged Americans need to make a certain sacrifice so that the Social Security system is sustainable for the long term,” he said.
But Jawando, who earlier described growing up in a “very low-income” situation in which his divorced mother and he shared a one-room efficiency apartment, sharply disagreed with Anderson’s proposal. “That hurts a lot of people—that hurts low-income people,” he said. “If you’re a black man in this country, your average age is 64. You won’t make it.” (The latest available statistics for African-American males in the District of Columbia show a life expectancy of 66 years, the lowest in the nation; for Maryland, the figure is 71 years of age.)
Opinions were also divided in the wake of the Obama administration’s recent release of the text of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal between the United States and 12 Asian nations.
“I think I might be the only candidate who is in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership,” Anderson said. “That is very much an example of how the United States must leverage our relationship with many countries in Asia in order to check China’s power. You must be engaged, you cannot retreat from the global economy and think that will help us.”
But Jawando and Rubin, despite their past positions in the Obama administration, joined most incumbent congressional Democrats in opposing the deal—citing concerns about the strength of its provisions protecting workers at home and abroad, as well as the environment in affected countries. “I have real concerns about this trade deal,” Rubin said. “We need to make sure trade is done fairly, and that people are benefiting across the board.”
Barve, Gutierrez and Raskin have previously signaled their opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Matthews, who had indicated she was awaiting release of the draft agreement before reaching a conclusion, said Tuesday she is still reviewing the text—released late last week—and consulting with experts.
“I would like to support [the partnership] because I believe trade agreements grow America’s overall economy by giving us bigger markets for our goods and services,” Matthews said in responding to a request for comment from Bethesda Beat. “But recent trade agreements have hurt American workers. I want to be assured that the [partnership] will increase exports, protect workers overseas and here at home, and have no adverse impact on the environment.”