One of the avoidable tragedies of the 2012 election is the near certain loss of Maryland 6 to the Democrats. Unfortunately, this loss could have the effect of rendering the district Democrat in perpetuity. And the blame for that, should it come to pass, rests on one man: Congressman Roscoe Bartlett.
It was going to be a tough race from the beginning as the O’Malley administration relentlessly gerrymandered Maryland 6 from a solid red county into a majority Democrat constituency. I don’t fault O’Malley for this. Elections do have consequences. If a party become so weak it can’t protect its interests very bad things can happen.
Into this new environment was injected Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Just to be clear here, I’ve voted for Mr. Bartlett several times and I believe he has served Maryland 6 well during his tenure in office. But there has rarely been a man more unsuited for the times than Mr. Bartlett. Winning elections by acclamation over a long period of time builds in a flaccidity that is hard to eliminate when an existential challenge emerges. That challenge has arrived in spades this year with a majority Democrat district, an effective and self-funded challenger who is placing enough daylight between himself and Barack Obama that he may appeal in some traditionally Republican areas, and a Bartlett organization that had neither the experience nor the temperament to deal with the change in landscape. Rather than bring in new people who have run cut and slash campaigns, which was what this was going to take to win, Mr. Bartlett relied on long time loyalists to run his campaign. Unfortunately, it seems none of them knew what a competitive race looked like.
This disaster was previewed back in December when Mr. Bartlett was approaching a tough election with a pittance in the bank. He had given mixed messages about his own desires which led to the fiasco of his own chief of staff lining up support for a Congressional run – a story broken here on RedMaryland but which the assclown that covers Maryland 6 for the Hagerstown Herald-Mail refused to acknowledge but the Washington Post did, nope I am not bearing a grudge, I am bigger than that – and getting the heave ho for his efforts. Bartlett’s mixed messages and financial weakness also attracted primary challengers.
In short, the disarray was obvious and where we desperately needed a candidate willing to take the fight into Montgomery County to win this race, we got a candidate who was rather tired and without fire in his belly or any other part of his body.
People involved in this can give you the specifics. A minuscule level of aid from the RCCC and RNC because of the lackluster quality of Bartlett’s candidacy and organization. A Facebook presence that didn’t become active until mid-summer. A wildly misnamed “Victory Center” with phone banks unmanned because either no one thought a volunteer organization would be useful or, more likely, the thought to ask for volunteers simply did not occur to the campaign. Zero polls were released by Mr. Bartlett’s campaign allowing his opponent to build the narrative of an imminent win. We know Mr. Bartlett was polling and can only assume his polls showed the same looming defeat. As of this weekend it looked like Bartlett’s Election Day plans consisted of going to be early after the poll closed, but now a belated Victory Party has been scheduled.
Barring a miracle of Biblical proportions, Mr. Bartlett will be defeated tomorrow. And unless the redistricting map is thrown out by voters tomorrow, Maryland could become even more of a one-party state.
Were it simply the case of a lackluster candidate losing, that would be one thing. Next election, with a fighting candidate, we could hope to take the seat back. The real danger lies downstream. Even with the Democrat edge, Maryland 6 could remain a very competitive race in 2014. There are several strong conservatives who could mount a vigorous challenge to the winner before he is able to fully burrow in as incumbents are able to do. If, though, the race is a blowout it will be harder for those future candidates to line up the financial backing, both inside and outside Maryland, to make a viable challenge.
Mr. Bartlett is ending a long and distinguished career by playing Hamlet and neither stepping aside nor running himself. It is unfortunate for him. It is tragic for Maryland and for the people living in Maryland 6.