Since the upset victory of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan nearly two years ago, the assumption bordering on conventional wisdom in state political circles has been that 6th District Rep. John Delaney of Potomac will be among the Democrats vying to take on Hogan for a second term in 2018.
But, as he gears up for a third term bid against a well-funded Republican challenger in what is likely to be the most competitive race in the state this November, Delaney is doing his best to pour cold water on such speculation.
“Those rumors fly around all the time, and I’m obviously flattered that people think of me in that way,” Delaney declared during an hour-long, wide-ranging interview. “But I can tell you I have no plans to run for governor.”
He repeated the same “no plans to run for governor” phrase just minutes later, adding, “I’m focused on my job, and I love my job.”
He continued: “There are people who are thinking about running for governor—they are fundraising for it, they have political people [working]. I have none of that.” But, as one of the wealthiest members of the House of Representatives—recent financial disclosures put his net worth in excess of $110 million—he readily acknowledged he could largely self-fund a statewide campaign if he so chose.
To be sure, Delaney’s assertions fall well short of a Shermanesque disavowal of candidacy. Asked if he might revisit the issue of running for governor if he is re-elected this fall, he left himself wiggle room. “There are all kinds of things I could revisit in the future,” he said. “But I’ve always liked that Lincoln expression that ‘You can only paddle the next bend in the river’.”
As for that bend, Delaney insisted he is now “focused on two things”—both of which involve the national capital rather than the state capital.
First is winning re-election against Republican nominee Amie Hoeber, a fellow Potomac resident, in a district in which Delaney had a close call in his first re-election campaign in 2014. The 6th District stretches from Potomac and Gaithersburg about 200 miles to the western edge of the Maryland Panhandle: While redrawn five years ago so that half of the district’s voters now reside in Democratic-dominated Montgomery County, it also encompasses all or part of four predominantly Republican counties to the west.
Second, if re-elected, is what Delaney sees as an opportunity to enact his signature legislative proposal: a bipartisan bill to create a $50 billion infrastructure fund underwritten by so-called repatriation of overseas corporate funds—which involves attracting such funds back to the United States by lowering the domestic tax rate paid by corporations involved.
“I really believe in the first 100 days [of the new administration], there’s going to be a chance to do a big repatriation bill if you listen to what Hillary is saying—and I believe Hillary is going to win,” declared Delaney, who was a leading fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 unsuccessful presidential bid prior to his initial 2012 run for Congress.
Hoeber, however, is convinced Annapolis remains very much in Delaney’s sights. “He clearly does not want this job. He clearly is running for governor, and I believe this district deserves someone who cares about this job—and I do,” declared Hoeber, a former Reagan administration official and long-time national security consultant. “I’m not looking at it as a stepping stone.”
Responded Delaney: “My opponent is oddly kind of petty about a bunch of things, this being one of them. I think she’d be better off speaking about what she cares about and wants to do as opposed to saying… that I’m going to run for some office that I haven’t said I’m running for.”
But Hoeber’s perceptions are shared, at least privately, by many of Delaney’s fellow partisans.
“I don’t think he’s given anyone any doubt that he wants to run for governor,” said one well-connected Montgomery County Democrat. A regular parlor game in local Democratic circles involves speculation who might run for the 6th District seat in 2018 if Delaney is re-elected this year and then seeks the governorship: Names mentioned include Potomac resident and businessman David Trone, the runner-up in this year’s 8th District Democratic primary, and at least six members of the county’s current General Assembly delegation.
While reacting with a hint of irritation to Hoeber’s comments, Delaney generally took questions about his future in stride, saying he understood why people were questioning his future plans. “It’s just that the speculation about this is way, way ahead of reality,” he said.
At one point, he suggested the speculation is a natural outgrowth of his resume: Thanks to creating and running two successful financial businesses, he is the only member of Congress who has been a chief executive officer of a publicly traded corporation. “I think the natural bias is that I’m an executive, and I ran these companies,” he said.
But part of the speculation also apparently has been fueled by Delaney’s eyeing of recent statewide openings for public office.
In 2014, barely a year after first being seated in Congress, he filed for re-election just a week before the deadline—after nearly a month of chatter about whether he would jump into the governorship race. According to The Washington Post, he declined to say at the time whether he had underwritten a telephone poll in which his name was mentioned as an option for governor, but did not definitively rule out a gubernatorial run until filing for re-election.
Early last year, when Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her retirement, Delaney said he was considering a bid to succeed her, even as fellow Montgomery County Rep. Chris Van Hollen quickly jumped into the contest. Delaney let his future intentions remain a question mark for nearly six months before indicating that he planned to seek re-election.
Since then, Delaney’s political movements around the state have fueled talk about a 2018 gubernatorial bid. “It’s part of my job,” Delaney protested when asked about such activities.
Most recently, he showed up at the summer conference of the Maryland Association of Counties in Ocean City—a gathering that annually provides aspiring statewide officeholders the opportunity to soak up the sun while schmoozing with local officials and lobbyists from around the state. Also there were Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who have made little secret of their gubernatorial aspirations.
Delaney contended he was unfairly lumped with Baker and Kamenetz when it came to media coverage of last month’s MACo gathering. “Those guys were hosting parties, schmoozing—I did none of that,” Delaney said. “I was asked to speak about innovation and competitiveness, which is a topic that I’ve developed a lot of expertise on. I gave my speech, I said hello to the booths of my counties—every county had a booth there—and I left. I was there for an hour and 10 minutes.”
But the episode that perhaps most shaped current perceptions about Delaney’s ambitions occurred last March—when a billboard truck, paid for by Delaney, circled the statehouse in Annapolis. One side was emblazoned with “Gov. Hogan: Will You Support Trump as the Republican Nominee?” with the other side of the truck bearing a sign declaring “Silence Is an Endorsement.”
Both sides of the truck had a quote attributed to Delaney, reading, “Because everyone in Maryland will lose if Trump wins.”
Delaney contended he was merely acting as a concerned Democrat seeking to hold Hogan—who ultimately revealed that he does not plan to vote for Trump in November—accountable.
“Look, I am a member of the Democratic Party. I do think what has happened with Donald Trump in this country is so insidious and so destructive,” Delaney declared emphatically. “Do I think the leader of the state politically…should get a free pass on the most consequential political development to come to one party in any of our memories? No.
“I’ve never in my life given people free passes on stuff that they should be responsible for, which is why I did that,” Delaney added of his use of the billboard truck. “If you’re in the game, you’re in the game.”
Hogan is not expected to give out any free passes, either: While shunning Trump, he has endorsed Hoeber, and, according to sources, is tentatively slated to campaign and raise money for the Republican challenger in September. If Delaney has “no plans to run for governor,” the incumbent appears to be taking no chances.
Meanwhile, Delaney is seeking to make Trump a campaign issue in the 6th District race, referring to the “Trump-Hoeber ticket.” Unlike Hogan, Hoeber has endorsed the Republican nominee, albeit tepidly.
“I’m a loyal Republican. I don’t like a lot of the things Donald Trump has said; I don’t like some of the things he’s done. But I will support the ticket,” Hoeber said in an interview, adding, “I pledged at the beginning of the primary campaign that I would support the Republican ticket. I stand by my pledge.”