Democrats got behind their nominee to take on Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett Wednesday, after strong backing by the state's Democratic establishment for state Sen. Rob Garagiola wasn't enough to stop John Delaney.
The well-financed banker routed Garagiola in Tuesday's primary and will face the 10-term Republican in November. Now, Democrats, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, are focusing on smoothing over any rifts as they seek to wrest away a seat 20 years under Republican control.
“He's a good person and I'm going to be doing everything I can to bring the party together to heal and to be successful for the people of Maryland come the fall,” O'Malley, who endorsed Garagiola last week, said of Delaney on Wednesday.
Voters said Delaney showed he can raise money, campaign hard and withstand attacks.
Some also rejected Garagiola over their dissatisfaction with the congressional redistricting process, which redrew the 6th Congressional District to include a lot more Democrats and Garagiola's state Senate district. That led some voters to think the district was being tailored in Annapolis to suit the young senator from Montgomery County.
Republican voter John Snyder, a Frederick advertising salesman, said Garagiola's defeat was sweet, even though Democrats could still win the House seat in November.
“He was their coat-holder for a number of years in Annapolis, and they wanted to reward him, and I guess they misjudged terribly,” Snyder said.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Delaney supporter, said Delaney's independent, pro-business and fiscally responsible message resonated with voters. Still, he said, there was more to it than that.
“Now on top of that, people don't like to be told by political bosses who to vote for,” Franchot told reporters Wednesday. He added that he believes the perception of gerrymandering ended up hurting Garagiola in the eyes of voters.
But O'Malley, who had a strong say in congressional redistricting, dismissed suggestions the district was drawn specifically for any one candidate.
“I don't know that it was drawn to favor any one candidate,” O'Malley said. “I mean, certainly we acknowledged in the redistricting the growth and population in the Washington suburbs out the 270 corridor, and it did create a district that has a greater number of Democrats than the old district did, but that's also reflective of that migration.”
Delaney campaigned on his record of creating thousands of jobs. He far outraised and outspent Garagiola, putting almost $1.4 million of his own money into a campaign portraying himself as a progressive businessman.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, pointed to Delaney's formidable campaign war chest.
“It's a classic example of how money talks, especially when there's a small turnout,” Miller said.
About 18 percent of registered voters went to the polls on Tuesday, according to unofficial numbers from the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Garagiola also noted he was badly outspent.
“When you can run TV ads for seven weeks and radio ads for eight weeks, it has an impact,” he said.
Bartlett, for his part, was quick to call attention to the redistricting process that is targeting him. Nevertheless, he's confident he can still prevail in a district he believes still leans to the GOP.
“This is clearly a race we can win and a seat we can hold,” Bartlett said in an interview Tuesday night. “It's going to be a big challenge. I'm going to work very hard. I'm working harder than any Republican on the Hill raising money.”
Delaney and Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Yvette Lewis, along with U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, made a show of party unity after having lunch at a restaurant in affluent Potomac, Delaney's hometown. They dodged reporters' questions about who requested the meeting and whether Delaney's victory reflected a weakness in the state organization heading into the November general election.
“Yesterday, the people spoke,” Lewis said. “The pundits didn't have a choice. The politicians didn't have a choice. The people decided, and I think they made a great choice.”
Delaney, who was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton, said he had a great conversation Tuesday night with O'Malley. He also said he spoke Wednesday with labor leaders, some of whom had called him dangerous for working families.
“I feel tremendous unity, and labor is an important part of the stakeholders I'll be representing once I get to Congress,” Delaney said.
Cardin, who cruised to an easy victory Tuesday night for the Democratic nomination to run for a second Senate term, said Delaney is seen as more moderate than Garagiola. That, Cardin said, will help him reach across party lines. Cardin also said the party was united behind Delaney.
“The traditional friends of the Democratic Party are going to be there, because we know how important this election will be to our values,” Cardin said.
Maryland has eight congressional districts, currently with six Democrats and two Republicans.