Update – 10:50 a.m. – State Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase plans to file today as a candidate for the 8th District congressional seat, making her the fourth candidate to jump into the contest for the Democratic nomination to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
Gutierrez, a native of El Salvador, was first elected to the General Assembly in 2002—the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in that body—after winning two terms on the Montgomery County Board of Education in the 1990s. If elected next year, she would be the first Hispanic-American ever to represent Maryland in Congress.
“I am very much running as a Latina representing the Latino issues at the national level,” Gutierrez said in an interview Thursday, adding that she is benefiting from “a huge interest among groups who want to raise the number of Latinos at the federal level.”
In a statement announcing her filing, Gutierrez focused on economic issues, saying that she had “chosen to file on May Day, the internationally recognized labor day, to commemorate the thousands of hard-working men and women who struggle every day to make a minimum sustainable hourly wage.”
Charged Gutierrez: “Too many critical matters that have an enormous impact on hard-working families and vulnerable children are being ignored in Congress.”
State Del. Kumar Barve, D-Gaithersburg, and state Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park, already have announced their candidacies for the 8th District seat—which Van Hollen is vacating to pursue a run for U.S. Senate—and former Obama administration aide Will Jawando this week filed with the Federal Election Committee, with plans to formally announce his candidacy this month. The 8th District is centered in Montgomery County, but has included portions of Frederick and Carroll counties since the last redistricting in 2011.
Meanwhile, former County Councilmember Valerie Ervin of Silver Spring on Thursday again indicated plans to run, saying that she expects to make an announcement “sometime in May.”
In addition, Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews confirmed today that “I am indeed planning to run.” Matthews, a Chevy Chase resident, added that she “will be announcing my departure from Marriott to start up a campaign” in the near future. Matthews, a one-time news anchor at Washington, D.C-based WJLA/Channel 7, is married to MSNBC commentator and talk show host Chris Matthews.
What now appears to be a likely Democratic primary field of a half-dozen contenders could swell further; two of Gutierrez’s colleagues in the Maryland House of Delegates, Dels. Ariana Kelly of Bethesda and Jeff Waldstreicher of Kensington, also said they are continuing to consider running. Waldstreicher represents the same state legislative jurisdiction as Gutierrez: District 18, which runs from Chevy Chase through Kensington and Wheaton to Silver Spring.
A number of political insiders have suggested that to be competitive in the April 2016 Democratic primary, contenders for the District 8 congressional seat, are going to have to raise at least $1 million, with some estimates of the cost of a campaign running as high as $3 million.
Gutierrez—who in the past has tended to conduct low-budget campaigns, while showing little taste for raising large amounts—disputed these estimates. “But I am prepared to do a significant amount of fundraising,” she added, while saying she has not yet determined how much she will need to run a competitive campaign.
“This is a different campaign from what I have run before. I have access now to a national base of donors. I have been in touch with quite a few… .The response I got is really what has made the difference,” she said of her decision to pursue the congressional race.
A chemist and computer systems engineer who served as deputy administrator for research at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Clinton administration, Gutierrez would be among the oldest freshman members ever elected to the U.S. House if she wins: She would turn 75 just weeks after being sworn into the 115th Congress in January 2017. 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.
Seeking to emphasize the upside of experience and longevity, Gutierrez declared Thursday, “It’s really great to have been around for a while, to have so many good friends who really know what I have been doing for the past 20-25 years.”
Like other members of the General Assembly either running for Congress in 2016 or contemplating a bid, Gutierrez would not have to give up her state legislative seat, which is not up for election until 2018. In her current position as a District 18 delegate, she has the advantage of representing one of the largest clusters of Democratic voters in next year’s congressional primary—although that is complicated by the possible entry of her District 18 colleague, Waldstreicher, into the contest. (District 18 Sen. Richard Madaleno of Kensington, who also contemplated a run for Congress but decided against it, last week endorsed Raskin.)
Asked about his thinking on entering the congressional race, Waldstreicher said: “I’m having active discussions with my friends in labor about the opening. There’s a strong desire for a candidate who will speak about economic justice issues and supporting our working families.” He is expected to reach a decision by the end of May.
So far, no candidate from Bethesda-based District 16, which has the largest single cluster of Democratic voters in the congressional district, has gotten into the race. But Kelly, who has represented that district in Annapolis for the past five sessions, continues to contemplate a run. “It’s a difficult decision and I want to take my time,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the frontrunner in the field, so I have time to decide whether I want to get in. The big question, of course, is the money—unfortunate, but that’s the reality.”
Ervin, meanwhile, would become the second African-American to enter the contest, joining Jawando. “I’m very close right now. We’re getting unbelievable response. I am putting a team together and we’re going to be making an announcement at some point in the very near future,” she said of her plans.
The strength of both the African-American and Hispanic-American communities in the 8th District was somewhat diluted by the last redistricting. While the 2010 census shows Montgomery County to be 18 percent African-American and 17 percent Hispanic-American, the comparable figures for the entire congressional district are 11 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
But a large field of candidates fragmenting the vote could be a potential boost to minority candidates in the primary, as evidenced by comments from Gutierrez—whose campaign plans to target a “very large number of Latinos who are independent voters” and urge that group to register as Democrats.
“The more people that can jump in, the better,” she chuckled. “So I encourage people to jump into the race.”
To date, only one Republican is exploring the contest: businessman Frank Howard of Laytonsville, a candidate for state Senate last year. The district remains dominated by Democrats, although redistricting made it somewhat less so than before.
This post was updated to add information received after publication regarding the candidacy of Kathleen Matthews.