Rep. Delaney Turns Back Well-Funded Challenge from Republican Hoeber by 55-41 Percent
6th District contest was regarded as Maryland's most competitive congressional race
Rep. John Delaney, center, with Del. Andrew Platt and state Sen. Cheryl Kagan
Democratic Rep. John Delaney won re-election Tuesday to a third term, turning back a well-funded challenge by Republican Amie Hoeber in what was widely regarded as Maryland’s only competitive congressional race in this fall’s general election.
With nearly all of the precincts reporting in the 6th District—which stretches nearly 200 miles across five counties, from Potomac and Gaithersburg to the western edge of the Maryland panhandle—Delaney held a 55-41 percent lead over Hoeber, a national security consultant. Delaney benefitted from a better than 2-1 lead over Hoeber in early voting, and more narrowly bested her in Election Day returns.
While Delaney barely won re-election in the off-year election two years ago, he appears to have benefitted this time from heavy Democratic turnout in the state during a presidential year—a factor that many had predicted would work in his favor.
Delaney first won the 6th District seat in 2012, his first foray into electoral politics after a career in business as founder of two successful commercial lending firms (he is today among Congress’ five wealthiest members, with assets of at least $115 million).
The district was redrawn following the 2010 census to make it easier for a Democrat to win, with the intended beneficiary being then-state Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola. But Delaney upset Garagiola in the 2012 Democratic primary, and went on to oust the Republican incumbent, Roscoe Bartlett, by more than 20 points in the general election.
Delaney had a far rockier time in his first bid for re-election in 2014, as Republicans in the western portion of the district turned out heavily for now-Gov. Larry Hogan, and turnout was way down in the Democratic-dominated Montgomery County portion of the district.
Delaney’s narrow 50-48 percent win over Republican Dan Bongino that year made him a potential target of national Republicans in 2016, who encouraged Hoeber—a former deputy undersecretary of the Army in the Reagan administration—to jump in. Hoeber, as a woman and a mainstream conservative, had a political profile GOP strategists felt was a good fit for a congressional district that, despite a 3-2 Democratic registration edge, contained more independent voters than any other such jurisdiction in the state.
And, facing a wealthy opponent who had sunk a combined total of $3.3 million into his previous two races for Congress, Hoeber was willing to self-fund to a large extent in an effort to achieve victory. All told, Hoeber pumped more than $782,000 of her personal assets into her campaign committee, with nearly 30 percent of that coming in the final month of the campaign. Her personal donations and loans totaled twice the $375,000 that filings with the Federal Election Commission showed Delaney giving or lending to his campaign organization during the 2016 election cycle.
However, the dominant financial force in this year’s race turned out to be neither of the candidates, but rather Hoeber’s husband, telecommunications executive Mark Epstein. He poured $3.8 million of his fortune into Maryland USA, a so-called Super PAC, created to promote Hoeber’s candidacy. In contrast to candidate campaign committees, which are restricted in what they can receive from sources other than the candidate, Super PACs can accept unlimited funds from individuals, corporations and labor unions.
Because Super PACs are prohibited from coordinating their activities with a candidate’s personal campaign committee, a situation in which the candidate and the chief funder of a Super PAC benefitting her candidacy resided under the same roof stirred legal controversy. Epstein insisted repeatedly that he merely donated the money and exerted no influence over how the funds were spent, but the Delaney campaign filed a still-pending Federal Election Commission complaint alleging violations of federal election law.
In April, Hoeber emerged the winner of a Republican primary against seven male candidates with whom she differed on the issue of abortion—arguing that government should stay out of the matter. Otherwise, there was little perceptible difference between her and the rest of the avowedly conservative primary field.
As she moved into the general election, Hoeber adopted a more centrist tone on issues ranging from restrictions on gun ownership to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, while also emphasizing her long-time involvement in the National Women’s Political Caucus. At the same time, Delaney sought to highlight the centrist aspects of his record, emphasizing occasions in which he had parted company with the Obama administration on trade and national security issues.
But, for the most part, the debate between Delaney and Hoeber reflected recent party line splits on issues ranging from the Iran nuclear agreement to Obamacare to immigration reform and federal education policy.
At times, that debate took on a nasty edge, such as during a late October forum when Delaney bristled after Hoeber disputed his claims to having sought to legislate in a bipartisan manner. She also criticized the incumbent for participating in a “kindergarten sit-down” on the floor of the House of Representatives last summer with other Democrats, to protest a refusal by Republican leaders to allow a vote on a gun control measure.
For his part, Delaney repeatedly sought to tie Hoeber to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, referring sometimes to the “Trump-Hoeber ticket.” Hoeber, while seeking to distance herself from several of Trump’s more controversial statements, stood by her support of him—saying she had pledged during the primaries to back whomever was on the national Republican ticket. She was also walking a political tightrope: While disavowing Trump would likely have played well in the Montgomery County end of the district, it would have cost her support in the white working-class sections in the far west of the Maryland panhandle.
But it was Hogan rather than Trump who loomed continually over the 6th District race.
While Delaney declared at the start of this year’s general election campaign that he had “no plans” to run for governor in 2018, few took his disavowal of interest at face value. Delaney publicly flirted with running for governor in early 2014 before declaring for re-election barely a week before the filing deadline, and, in the spring of 2016, hired a billboard truck to drive around the statehouse in Annapolis—pushing Hogan to take a position on Trump.
Hogan returned the favor by endorsing Hoeber, raising money for her, and publicly criticizing Delaney’s representation of the 6th District. And Hogan’s top political adviser showed up as a consultant on the payroll of Maryland USA, the pro-Hoeber PAC. At times, Hoeber seemed to be acting as a surrogate for Hogan, accusing Delaney of missing meetings with the governor and not working with the Hogan administration on state transportation priorities—charges which Delaney denied.