District 6 Republicans Tap Hoeber to Challenge Rep. Delaney in November

District 6 Republicans Tap Hoeber to Challenge Rep. Delaney in November

Former Reagan administration official is victor after big-spending primary effort

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District 6 Rep. John Delaney (left) speaks with Kathleen Matthews Tuesday night in Bethesda

Sarah Hogue

Amie Hoeber, a Potomac-based national security consultant, was nominated by 6th District Republicans Tuesday to face Rep. John Delaney in what could be the state’s most competitive congressional election matchup this November.

The faceoff between Delaney—who was easily renominated with 85 percent over local party activist Tony Puca—and Hoeber will pit two neighbors against each other. Delaney and Hoeber live just a few houses apart on the same road in Potomac. Both reside in District 8, a short distance outside the boundaries of District 6; a candidate for Congress is required only to reside in the state in which he or she is running, not in the specific congressional district.

It could also be a high-spending contest this fall: Delaney, the third wealthiest member of the U.S. House, according to a study by Roll Call, spent more than $2 million of his personal fortune on his first election to the seat in 2012, and spent another $900,000 to win re-election two years ago. Hoeber’s primary victory was boosted by heavy spending by a so-called Super PAC funded by her husband, Mark Epstein, a founder of Qualcomm, a West Coast telecommunications technology firm.

With more than 95 percent of precincts reporting, Hoeber had 29.3 percent of the vote to 23.1 percent for Washington County Commissioners President Terry Baker, a lead of about 4,500 votes. Laytonsville businessman Frank Howard was third with 17.1 percent. Rounding out the eight-person field was attorney Robin Ficker, a perennial candidate, with 11.2 percent; Frederick County Del. David Vogt, 9.5 percent; former Marine Christopher Mason of Frederick County, 4.2 percent; research scientist and physician Scott Cheng of Montgomery Village, 3.8 percent; and accountant Harold Painter of Gaithersburg, 1.8 percent.

Despite a close call in 2014 for Delaney—he squeaked by Republican nominee Dan Bongino by a 50-48 percent margin—independent analysts have regarded District 6 as safely Democratic in the 2016 general election. One major factor: The Democratic turnout, which fell off sharply in 2014 thanks in large part to Democrat Anthony Brown’s lackluster gubernatorial bid, is certain to jump in a presidential year.

Nonetheless, national Republicans have kept the district in their sights, in part because Delaney is believed to be eyeing a run for governor in 2018—an ambition that could be derailed by a loss or even another close call.  

Hoeber took a swipe at Delaney’s future ambition in a victory statement Tuesday night. “For the past almost four years, our district has been let down time and time again by a congressman who is baffled by our national security needs and whose answer to America’s problems is more government and more regulations,” she charged. “Furthermore, Congressman Delaney has shown, particularly recently, that his attention centers on challenging our own Governor Hogan rather than on the needs and priorities of Marylanders of the Sixth District.”

It was an apparent reference to a recent incident in which Delaney hired a truck to circle the statehouse in Annapolis, demanding that Hogan disavow Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. 

Delaney fired back Tuesday night in congratulating Hoeber on her primary win, while referring to the “Trump-Hoeber ticket.”

Declared Delaney: “Mrs. Hoeber has stated repeatedly that she will support Trump if he is the nominee and after tonight we are one step closer to that reality. Mrs. Hoeber will find it challenging to explain how her decision to support Donald Trump—whose agenda will grow our debt by $12 trillion, will weaken our national security, and will continue to divide our country—is consistent with the priorities of the Sixth District.”

Hoeber, a deputy undersecretary of the Army in the Reagan administration, was recruited last year by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans—with strategists there believing that a female candidate with centrist leanings would be the most potent challenger to Delaney.

At 74, Hoeber would be one of the oldest freshman members of Congress ever if elected. She ran a primary campaign for the District 6 Republican nomination funded in large measure by herself and her husband—even if their self-funding was overshadowed by the record self-financing that another Potomac resident, David Trone, pumped into an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nod in neighboring District 8.

As of early April, Hoeber’s personal campaign committee reported raising $480,000, with more than 70 percent of this coming from $350,000 in personal loans that Hoeber made to the campaign.

Meanwhile, Maryland USA, a Super PAC, spent more than $1.45 million in “independent expenditures” to boost her candidacy. While Super PACs are barred under federal election law from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s campaign committee, all of Maryland USA’s spending has been underwritten by $2.1 million in donations from Epstein. Unlike candidate campaign committees, there are no limits on the amounts that Super PACs can accept from individuals, corporations or labor unions.

This level of spending left Hoeber’s leading rivals—Baker, Howard and Vogt—far behind in terms of the ability to compete financially. Vogt reported raising $60,000 as of early April; Howard, $72,000, including $50,000 in loans to himself; and Baker, less than $28,000.

Although few clear divisions emerged among the candidates on public policy issues during several debates—they all said they would vote to repeal Obamacare, and opposed further efforts to restrict the ownership of firearms—Hoeber was alone on the question of abortion: While saying she was personally opposed to abortion, she declined to support measures intended to outlaw it. In response, Vogt touted his endorsement by Maryland Right To Life, and Howard—who had opposed efforts to restrict abortion rights while a candidate for the state Senate in 2014—shifted to a harder line anti-abortion stance.

Howard had hoped to emerge as the leading Montgomery County candidate in a district that extends 200 miles from Potomac and Gaithersburg into far Western Maryland, covering all or part of five counties. According to the latest available figures from the Maryland Board of Elections, there are about 145,000 registered Republicans in District 6, with the largest single group of these voters, a little more than 50,000, residing in Montgomery County.

But Hoeber’s entry into the contest last year thwarted Howard’s hope of uniting Montgomery County around his candidacy, and, in the closing weeks of the campaign, he became increasingly critical of Hoeber—sending out a direct mail piece criticizing her for a past contribution to Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Howard himself was somewhat vulnerable on this front: It turned out he had made a past donation to then-District 14 Democratic state Sen. Karen Montgomery, whose re-election he later challenged in 2014.

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