Three Step Up At Last Minute To Challenge Incumbent Ruppersberger
At 9 a.m. on July 3, the 2nd Congressional District race looked duller than dirt. Two-term incumbent C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger was the only candidate, and the GOP wasn't grooming an opponent.
But by 9 p.m., Ruppersberger not only had a Democratic challenger, but three Republicans had also filed for the primary at the very last minute. But that's A-OK with this political veteran.
"People think I'm crazy, but I was worried" about not having a challenger, Ruppersberger says. "I like competition."
Laughing, he continues: "You get what you ask for."
"I lead a busy life--I'd been thinking about doing this for some time," says Christopher Boardman, a Democrat from Harford County, who raced into state elections headquarters just moments before the filing deadline. He had come to Annapolis just after his shift ended at a Baltimore-area hospital, still wearing his nursing scrubs. After realizing that elections headquarters had moved since he last filed to run for office in 1996, "I had to hoof it over to the right place."
On the Republican primary ticket are Demaris "Dee" Hodges, J.D. Urbach, and Jimmy Mathis.
With newcomers vying for the spot currently occupied by Ruppersberger--a former Baltimore County executive and, by most accounts, a well-liked lawmaker--this race doesn't look like it will set anything on fire. Ruppersberger first won the seat in 2002, and in the 2004 election, he was re-elected easily, defeating first-time challenger Republican Jane Brooks with 67 percent of the vote. Ruppersberger now sits on the House Intelligence Committee and co-chairs the National Port Security Caucus. None of the other candidates in this race has ever held public office.
Mathis sees his inexperience as a plus. Now a freelance television photographer and production company owner, Mathis garnered national attention 12 years ago, when he became the youngest student pilot to fly a single-engine plane across the country. He's hoping that the average Joe remembers him.
"I just think that overall the representation is targeted toward the extremely wealthy or those in extreme need of help," the Baltimore County Republican says. "And most Americans don't fit into either category. The hard-working middle class really needs to have a voice."
The big issues, Mathis says, are Social Security (he believes private accounts are the way to go) and immigration--a concern shared by the other candidates, as well.
"A nation without borders is not a nation," Mathis says, quoting Ronald Reagan. "We need to figure out a realistic guest-worker program where [illegal immigrants] would have to go back home first and then come back to this country legally."
Hodges is blunt about it.
"We need to send the message to the 12,000 people a day who stream into our borders that they can't stay so easily and get jobs and make money," she says. That's accomplished, she asserts, by enforcing the immigration laws that are on the books and getting the technology in place to curb the flow of illegal immigrants.
But taxes are Hodges' big bugaboo.
"I've been a banker most of my life," Hodges says. "I believe it is very important to have taxes as low as possible--you have to fund government--because you want the economy to be strong." Lowering taxes would stimulate the economy, the Baltimore County Republican says, creating more jobs and greater tax income for the federal government. "You have more people earning money, and earning more money, so there are more taxes."
"This is my first foray into running for political office," says Urbach, a telecommunications project manager for Lucent Technologies. Urbach says he was keeping an eye out to see who would enter the race against Ruppersberger, and when he saw that no one else had filed he decided at the last moment to throw his hat into the ring.
"I really do believe Dutch is beatable," the Baltimore County Republican says. While Urbach says he certainly understand all the reasons why no one was running against Ruppersberger, he adds, "I felt that it was wrong. Certainly no one gets a free pass."
Urbach is also running for Republican Central Committee, but he's not sure what would happen if he won that race and the seat in Washington too. "I should probably look into that," he says.
Boardman was compelled to join the race because of his desire to see Ruppersberger replaced. And he doesn't mince words. In a press release, Boardman accuses the former Baltimore County executive of "sleeping on the job."
"When Dutch Ruppersberger was elected in 2002, many of us Democrats were glad we had a Democrat to claim the 2nd District seat," he says. But Ruppersberger has disappointed Boardman, who also made a run for the seat in 1996. His concerns about the war in Iraq went virtually unnoticed by his representative, Boardman says.
"I just didn't get very good replies from Dutch Ruppersberger," he says. "And he'd give me warmed-over platitudes, like from the [Bush] administration. I am sick and tired of this. We need to stop this war."
He also feels that Ruppersberger has not been visible. "Mr. Ruppersberger, I just don't feel he has any knowledge of what's going on," he says. "If I was in Congress, I would have a public forum in my district on the war."
Ruppersberger does not support setting a time line for removal of troops in Iraq, but he says he has put forth a plan for giving Iraq police more responsibility for the country's security. With a seat on the Intelligence Committee, Ruppersberger has been at the forefront of the war on terrorism.
"Intelligence is the best defense against terrorism," he says, but the need for intelligence must be balanced with citizens' civil rights. He was part of a core group of Intelligence Committee members who pushed for more information about the National Security Administration eavesdropping program. That, he says, is a matter of protecting his constituents who work at the NSA.
"You should never have to worry about whether or not [a job responsibility] is illegal," he says. "Our forefathers created the best system of government in the world--and that system is checks and balances. And when that system gets out of whack, we have problems." But Ruppersberger is not the only candidate focusing on homeland security.
Hodges' position on the war and terrorism was formed in part by a stint in Vietnam as a member of the Red Cross after college graduation.
"Ideally, we would live in a world where so many countries are doing things right that we wouldn't need war," Hodges says. And she sees terrorism and Iraq linked--from the beginning. "I think it's well established that [Saddam Hussein] harbored terrorists and provided terrorist training ground."
And as for the quagmire that some describe in Iraq? "To relive [those mistakes] is probably not what we should do," she says. "You can't be in a war and do things right all the time."
Boardman couldn't disagree more.
"Somebody has to stand up and say, `Look, I'm going to vote against the war.' We've had about the worst outcome in Iraq."
For Urbach, the campaign is all about getting a Republican into the seat.
"I believe there is no denying that a Republican would be able to bring [more] tax dollars to Maryland," he says. "Without representation in Washington fighting for Maryland and insuring that Maryland receives its fair share, we're going to be short-changed."
It's a matter of simple logic, Urbach asserts: Since the GOP controls two of the three branches in D.C., Maryland can benefit from having more Republicans in the House. "With that situation in Washington, you don't have a voice in the majority," he says.
He's not denying that the Republicans are facing an uphill battle.
"This district is two-to-one Democrat, so I have to convince a heck of a lot of Democrats to vote for me," he says of the 2nd District, which includes much of Baltimore County and parts of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Harford counties. "But once people start to realize that they're being shortchanged, they want to do something about it."
Mathis feels the heat, too. "It's tough in a race like this. There's no doubt about it."
For his part, Ruppersberger seems unconcerned and notes that the race is not about power plays between the parties--it's about electing the best candidate for the job.
"I believe politics is about relationships and trust," he says. "Unfortunately, Washington has become very partisan, and that's not good for the country. They should be judged by their record. I don't like partisan politics."
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