With the April 2016 primary election still a year away, the maneuvering is intensifying for the 8th District congressional seat that became open last month when Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen decided to run for U.S. Senate.
Former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin of Silver Spring and state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase have signaled their intention to enter the race for the Democratic nomination in the Montgomery County-based district, joining state Del. Kumar Barve of Gaithersburg—who has announced his candidacy—and state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park, who has scheduled a formal announcement for April 19.
“My team and I are planning to make an announcement in the very near future,” Ervin said Tuesday. She spent two years as a member of the county’s Board of Education before being elected to the County Council in 2006, representing Silver Spring/Takoma Park-based District 5 for seven years.
Gutierrez, also a former Board of Education member first elected to the General Assembly in 2002, called the chance to serve in Congress “a once in a lifetime opportunity.” She added that she was “looking to put together a campaign and to make an announcement,” while deferring further comment until after the state legislative session adjourns April 13.
The entry of Ervin, who is African-American, and Gutierrez, who is a native of El Salvador, would bring members of Montgomery County’s two largest minority groups into the field of candidates. Barve, whose parents emigrated to the United States from India, is seeking to become only the fourth Indian-American ever elected to Congress.
Meanwhile, at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer of Takoma Park, who had been considering a congressional bid, said Tuesday he would not run, and threw his support to Raskin—with whom he shares a home base. “The fact is that it is not the right time for me personally,” said Riemer, adding, “I love Jamie and think he’ll be a great congressman. He’ll have my full support.”
Riemer becomes the latest of several County Council members to either disavow interest in the congressional contest or to contemplate running but ultimately decide not to do so. It leaves at-large Councilmember Nancy Floreen of Garrett Park as the only member of that body still mulling the 8th District race. “I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to people and getting advice, and reviewing the situation. I’m still giving it really serious consideration,” said Floreen, who was first elected to the council in 2002.
Because General Assembly and County Council seats are not up for election in 2016, elected officials contemplating the congressional race can run without relinquishing their current posts.
In addition to the four candidates who have announced or say they are ready to do so, Floreen is among another half-dozen potential Democratic contenders eyeing the 8th District congressional seat. The slot last became open 30 years ago, in 1986, when then-Democratic Rep. Michael Barnes opted to make an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate. Van Hollen captured the seat in 2002 by ousting the then-incumbent, Republican Connie Morella.
The current mix of possible candidates also appears to include Dels. Ariana Kelly of Bethesda and Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington; former Obama administration official and state delegate candidate William Jawando of Silver Spring; and Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase. According to sources, the latest possible entrant is former Del. Bill Bronrott, a one-time press secretary to Barnes who represented Bethesda-based District 16 from 1998 until he resigned in 2010 to become deputy administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; he left that post several weeks ago.
An advantage of a political base in District 16, where Kelly is now among the three sitting delegates, is that it contains the largest single cluster of District 8 Democratic primary voters of any of the county’s eight state legislative jurisdictions.
Ervin’s entry into the contest has been widely expected since Van Hollen’s Senate announcement: An outspoken, sometimes controversial figure during her County Council tenure, she resigned a year before the end of her second term after openly aspiring to run for county executive in 2014. But her path was blocked by County Executive Ike Leggett’s decision to seek a third term. Since leaving the council, Ervin has been executive director of the Center for Working Families, an arm of the Working Families Party.
If Ervin’s candidacy does not come as a surprise in local political circles, such cannot be said of the reaction to Gutierrez’s decision to get into the congressional race.
Gutierrez is respected as a political pioneer: She was the county’s first Latino delegate in the General Assembly, as well as the first Hispanic-American woman to sit in the state legislature. If elected to Congress, she would be the first Hispanic-American to represent Maryland.
But she would also be one of the oldest freshman members in congressional history; Gutierrez will turn 75 in January 2017, weeks after the next Congress is due to be sworn in. According to the House historian’s office, the oldest freshman ever, 78-year old Democrat James Bowler of Illinois, was chosen in a special election in July 1953, and went on to serve two terms.
Gutierrez bristled late last week when the subject was raised, suggesting such questions smacked of “ageism.” But, in a body where length of service frequently translates into clout for constituents back home, age has surfaced as an issue in races for other open seats in recent years.
To be sure, it is not unusual for members of the U.S. House to serve well into their 80s. The oldest House member ever, Republican Ralph Hall of Texas, left this past January at the age of 91. But Hall was first elected while in his late 50s, and acquired enough congressional seniority to chair a House committee. (Of the other candidates in the District 8 field, Barve is now 56; Ervin, 58; and Raskin, 52.)
By her own acknowledgment, Gutierrez also is known for an aversion to raising large amounts of campaign money: Estimates for the cost of running a competitive race for an open congressional seat start at seven figures. “I think a million dollars puts you in the ring,” said one insider, with some suggesting it may take $2 million to $3 million—if not more—to come out on top in a media market where a single 30-second spot on broadcast TV can cost $10,000.
Barve filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission a week ago, and has been raising money in advance of the FEC’s quarterly filing deadline, which closed Tuesday. Members of the General Assembly are barred from fundraising for state office during the legislative session, but this restriction does not extend to state legislators seeking federal office.
“Given the insanely short time frame that we have been operating under, we will show a fairly robust number,” Barve campaign manager Seth Maiman said of the fundraising efforts. Maiman, a former congressional aide long active in Bethesda civic activities, declined to provide a figure on how much he expects the report, due to be released by the FEC on April 15, to show.
While he has yet to file with the FEC, Raskin has designated a campaign treasurer: Miti Figueredo, a former County Council aide and county government official who is now vice president for public affairs at the Chevy Chase Land Co. Figueredo’s business ties should prove helpful to Raskin, known primarily for his emphasis on social issues during nearly a decade in Annapolis.
Raskin plans to kick off his April 19 announcement with an event in his Takoma Park/Silver Spring home base, followed by a concert that evening by folk singer Dar Williams at the Potomac residence of long-time civic activist Diana Conway, immediate past president of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance. Also on the tentative schedule that day is a stop in Frederick County, where Raskin will promote the endorsement of two Frederick County legislators: Sen. Ron Young and his wife, Del. Karen Lewis Young.
While its population base remains overwhelmingly in Montgomery County, the 8th District was redrawn in 2011 to include portions of Frederick and Carroll counties. Based on the results of the 2014 primary, about 15 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary next year may come from those two counties—enough to make a difference in a crowded field.
Although less so than it was prior to redistricting, the 8th District remains dominated by Democrats. That has not discouraged at least one potential Republican candidate. Laytonsville businessman Frank Howard, who mounted a competitive challenge last year to Sen. Karen Montgomery, D-Brookeville, announced earlier this month that he is exploring a run for Congress.