By CARL STRAUMSHEIM
WASHINGTON—Maryland Democrats are confident their state's lopsided congressional delegation will be influential in the next U.S. House of Representatives, despite having waged a war to unseat one of the most experienced Republicans in Congress.
"The Republicans control the House, but as you could see from the election results, the people control the direction of the country," said Yvette Lewis, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party. "I think that if the Republicans are smart, they will do everything they can to listen to what people have said, or they will continue to lose elections like they did on Tuesday night."
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville, called the election a "victory for Marylanders," even though the state now only has a single Republican elected to federal office.
"With seven out of eight congressional seats in our state held by Democrats, the Maryland delegation is more unified than ever and can effectively work together to deliver results for our constituents," Hoyer said in a statement. "Although Republicans have retained the majority in the House, I'm hopeful that we can find common ground during the lame duck (session) and next Congress to grow our economy, prevent the looming fiscal cliff and help put more Marylanders back to work."
Unless Congress acts during the lame duck session, Jan. 1 will bring an automatic $1.2 trillion across-the-board cut to entitlement programs and military spending. This "sequestration" was designed, as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act, to be so unpalatable to both Republicans and Democrats by evenly slashing defense and domestic spending that it would force the parties to an agreement.
With the defeat of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, has been thrust into the position of the highest-ranking Republican in the state of Maryland. But whereas Bartlett had 20 years of experience in the House, Harris has two; he won his first re-election campaign on Tuesday. As Republicans retained their majority in the House, Maryland finds itself with little seniority to make its voice heard with the Republican leadership.
"We lost one of our good guys," Maryland Republican Party Chairman Alex X. Mooney said about Bartlett. "His voice will be missed not only in Maryland but this whole country."
Lewis said the House Democrats' combined experience makes up for the loss of Bartlett.
Maryland's delegation, which also includes two ranking committee members, is a powerful force when Democrats control the House, but remains restrained as long as Republicans are in the majority. The addition of Delaney, a wealthy financier who co-founded a commercial lending bank, should satisfy what Lewis described as a national hunger for bipartisanship.
"I think that the Republicans would welcome him with open arms," Lewis said. "We're giving them someone with business experience."
Harris, however, said Maryland will be "less well served" without Bartlett, who chairs the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
"It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face," Harris said.
Delaney and Harris, who represent opposite corners of the state, may have more in common than their party backgrounds would suggest. Delaney suffered a volley of attacks in the primary after his $2,400 donation to Harris in 2010, when he unseated then-Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, was disclosed.
When asked what advice he had to offer a House freshman, Harris recommended Delaney prepare to deal with significant domestic issues from his first day in office.
"It remains to be seen whether or not he will vote with the Democratic leadership or if he will cross the aisle," Harris said. "I know that when he gets to Washington in January, we're still going to have huge issues to deal with, including a debt ceiling vote."
Mooney acknowledged a resurgent Republican Party in Maryland would have to be built from the county level up, however, the party experienced a rare bright spot Tuesday night: Republican Tari Moore defeated Democrat Pam Howard in the race to become Cecil County's first executive. Most important to his party's future, Mooney said, "We've got to run good candidates."
Apart from Harris, Maryland's Republican congressional candidates were no match against the Democratic incumbents, attracting the support of about 25 percent of voters on average.
Mooney also faulted Maryland's new congressional redistricting map, which he said gerrymanders Republican voters by dispersing their electoral clout, for complicating Republicans' chances of winning seats in the House.
"I just think that Marylanders are not being fairly represented based on their views and voting patterns across the state," Mooney said.
The unofficial vote count shows Maryland voters approved the new congressional districts, which appeared as Question 5 on the ballot, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. Barring a successful legal challenge, Republicans aiming to oust Delaney in the 6th District will have to overcome a deficit among registered voters until the districts' lines are changed for the 2022 elections.
In a state where more than 60 percent voted for President Barack Obama, "that's majority rule," Lewis said. "When you get a majority, then that's what rules, and that's what speaks, and that's what we abide by."
Maryland Democrats are likely to encounter the same attitude when the 113th Congress is seated in January.