Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jennifer Dougherty for Congress

By Marc Korman.

Recently, Jennifer Dougherty paid a visit to the Montgomery County Young Democrats at their monthly meeting. Dougherty is running for Congress in the 6th district of Maryland, which includes Frederick, Alleghany, Carroll, Garrett, and Washington counties and parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Howard counties. The district also has six, sparsely populated precincts in Montgomery County. The district map can be seen here. Since 1993, the 6th district has been represented by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Barlett has won the district with over 55% of the vote since 1992. It was specifically drawn for a Republican, going for President Bush with 61% of the vote in 2000 and 65% in 2004. So what is Dougherty’s game plan for knocking off the incumbent?

The Incumbent

Roscoe Bartlett is 82 years old and sits on three House Committees: Armed Services, Small Business, and Science. The House of Representatives was Bartlett’s first political office, although he ran unsuccessfully for Congress once before. He has had a diverse career including working as a teacher, a research scientist, inventor, businessman, and farmer. He has 20 research patents to his name.

In Congress, Bartlett is known for his science background and his involvement in naval issues. He does not have much of a record of passing legislation. Looking through the Library of Congress’ bill tracker, there is no indication that Bartlett passed a single bill or amendment on the floor during his entire Congressional career. To be fair, that does not necessarily mean he has not done anything, as often times legislation is combined with other bills or amended in committee.

The Challenger

Jennifer Dougherty was a one term mayor of Frederick from 2001 to 2005, beating a two term incumbent. However, she lost the Democratic primary in 2005. Dougherty has owned and operated a number of businesses in Frederick. Earlier this year, she defeated Iraq war veteran Andrew Duck for the Democratic Congressional nomination. Duck had run against Bartlett in 2006, keeping him to his lowest share of the vote since 1996. Although that was still a 59% victory for Bartlett.

In describing her mayoral term, Dougherty discussed her work to increase jobs in Frederick and improving public safety through police reform.

The Issues

Dougherty focused on three issues she thought would be important in the upcoming election. The first was energy/gas prices. Bartlett has a long history of discussing peak oil, the idea that oil is a finite resource, but Dougherty believes his record is lacking. Bartlett supported the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act in 2005, which is largely regarded as too generous to fossil fuels, at the expense of alternatives. The second issue was the economy, with Dougherty discussing some of the truly impoverished areas of the 6th district where jobs are sorely needed. She discussed the need to balance the free market with sensible regulation. The final issue mentioned was public safety, including homeland security issues, especially those stemming from Fort Detrick in Frederick.

The Plan

But those issues have little to do with how Dougherty really plans to become a Congresswoman. Her real plan can best be summarized as the two Bs: Bush and Bartlett.

The only reason the 6th Congressional district is in play is because the Republican brand is decimated thanks to President Bush. Dougherty needs to position herself to ride the Democratic wave, if it exists, on Election Day.

To help position herself for that wave, Dougherty needs to spend time talking about Bartlett. One issue that Dougherty probably will not discuss, but she has been asked about, is Bartlett’s age. Another issue now on the table is Bartlett’s property sales and his failure to disclose his estimated income. But the issue Dougherty brought up when she spoke is effectiveness, noting Bartlett’s lack of legislative accomplishment. Although Dougherty did not mention it, I know that Bartlett has introduced legislation for several years to allow GI Bill education benefits to be transferred from the servicemember to a family member. But it took a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, to actually turn it into law.

The Chances

So what are Dougherty’s chances? She likely needs a big Democratic wave to take the seat. As discussed above, the district is made for a Republican. Dougherty is also behind in fundraising. She only had $41,000 cash on hand, compared to $337,000 for Bartlett after the last fundraising quarter. Dougherty also mentioned her plan to canvass every house in certain neighborhoods, as opposed to limiting herself to registered voters or some other type of targeted effort. That demonstrates, to me, a lack of a serious campaign plan. Alternatively, she has an ambitious neighbor to neighbor phone banking plan that asks volunteers to make just a few phone calls a day to maximize the time of her volunteers and impact on voters.

While Dougherty has an uphill battle, the past two years have shown Democrats can win in unexpected places. If Jennifer Dougherty works hard, raises some money, and knocks on the right doors, she could be positioned to ride the wave to the Capitol.