By MARK MILLER
WASHINGTON (January 25, 2012)—House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, has the money, the name recognition and the power in Maryland's 5th Congressional District, but state Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, the chief Republican vying to unseat him, said he is undaunted by all that.
O'Donnell, the minority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, made his congressional bid in the 5th District official last month.
"I'm running this year because our nation is in particular hell right now," O'Donnell said last week. "We have a particular need to save this country."
O'Donnell has attacked Hoyer on the rejection of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the stimulus spending packages passed in 2009 and proposed cuts to defense spending, among other issues, in a series of news releases.
"(The federal debt) threatens our strong national defense, because if we can't afford to have a strong military, then bases like PAX (Naval Air Station Patuxent) River, and Indian Head, and Andrews, and NASA-Goddard...all of those bases are threatened if we can't pay the bills," said O'Donnell.
Two lesser-known Republicans, David Hill of Bowie and Glenn Troy Morton of Largo, are also running for their party's nomination.
Hoyer, meanwhile, faces a primary challenge from unsung Democrat Cathy Johnson Pendleton, founder of GAM-JAM Publishing Co., of Laurel.
Both O'Donnell and Hoyer are expected to win their respective primaries easily on April 3, according to Michael Cain, a political science professor at St. Mary's College.
But Hoyer has a strong edge in the district heading into the general election, thanks in large part to its partisan leanings.
According to the Maryland State Board of Elections, 58.5 percent of its registered voters are Democrats, while just 24.9 percent are Republicans. The district covers Southern Maryland, as well as much of southern Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, with a tendril extending into upper Prince George's County to take in several northeastern suburbs of Washington, D.C., including College Park, Greenbelt and New Carrollton.
"I think it's going to be an uphill battle for Delegate O'Donnell to unseat an incumbent, a long-term incumbent, in this district," said Cain.
Indeed, Hoyer is one of the most firmly entrenched Democrats in the House of Representatives, never being held below 55 percent of the vote in any election to the House. Second only to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in the House Democratic hierarchy, Hoyer is the dean of Maryland's congressional delegation and is seeking his 17th consecutive term in Congress. His organization spans the state and beyond, which has aided him in quickly outraising opponents in past elections.
"Steny Hoyer is a relentless campaigner," Cain said. "He's raised a lot of money already. He's well known throughout the district."
The Hoyer campaign reported nearly $1.2 million in cash on hand when it made its most recent financial disclosure in September.
O'Donnell, who was not a congressional candidate at the time, did not file a disclosure. The only other candidate in the race to have filed a financial disclosure, Johnson Pendleton, reported just $5 in her campaign coffers.
O'Donnell acknowledged, but dismissed, Hoyer's cash advantage.
"This election is not going to be about money on hand," said O'Donnell. "If that were the case, only wealthy people like Congressman Hoyer would win the race."
O'Donnell suggested that the election in November will serve as a referendum on an unpopular Congress.
"It's a choice of the future of America," O'Donnell said. "In my opinion, we can save the country, but we can't stay on the path that we're on. And if Congress is dysfunctional, then it's absolutely essential that we change the people and the leaders in the Congress, and Congressman Hoyer is part of that."
A spokeswoman for the Hoyer campaign, Maureen Beach, framed Congress' unpopularity differently.
"(Hoyer) certainly understands the disappointment of so many Americans that Republicans refuse to work with Democrats to find solutions for the good of the country," Beach wrote in an email. "Elections give voters the opportunity to reflect on the type of leadership they want, and in 2010, voters said by a 30 (percent) margin that they believed in the work that Congressman Hoyer has done for the 5th Congressional District."
In 2010, before last year's round of congressional redistricting, then-House Majority Leader Hoyer easily defeated Republican businessman Charles Lollar of Newburg.
Although Lollar, a black military veteran, was touted by the likes of former Republican governors Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, his campaign was unable to match Hoyer's fundraising. During the 2010 election cycle, Hoyer reported raising more than $4.5 million. Lollar raised just $585,295, according to his last disclosure of the year.
Final returns gave Hoyer a nearly 30-point victory over Lollar.
Cain explained Lollar's overwhelming defeat by referring to the "numbers problem in Prince George's County." The heavily Democratic county dominates the district by having the largest number of voters. It was one of two counties in the district Hoyer carried in 2010.
"Charles Lollar, I think, ran a good race ... and he wasn't able to take enough votes in the crucial part of Prince George's County to unseat Representative Hoyer," said Cain.
Because O'Donnell has served 17 years in the General Assembly as a prominent lawmaker from Calvert County, he starts the race with higher name recognition than Lollar, Cain said.
Hoyer's position should strengthen in the district, Cain said, because partisan shifts evident in 2010 are likely to continue.
"Charles County has been trending much more Democratic over time," said Cain. "They've kind of peeled off from St. Mary's and Calvert counties."
Although Hoyer lost Calvert and St. Mary's counties in 2010, as well as his district's portion of Anne Arundel County, his margin of victory in Charles and Prince George's counties propelled him to re-election. Given the continuing demographic shifts, this is likely to be the scenario in November.
But despite running in what he acknowledged is a district drawn to favor Hoyer, O'Donnell said he sees a path to victory in November: "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think it was possible."