Reviews | The 6th district of Maryland will tell us: red wave or tsunami

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MIDDLETOWN — Life can be good in this Maryland town of 5,000, with its rows of brightly colored Victorian homes and historic Main Street straight out of Norman Rockwell.

On a sunny afternoon last Saturday, the mood was downright idyllic, as costumed families, led by the Middletown High School Marching Band, meandered through the streets in the annual Halloween parade, tossing candy to onlookers.

Yet Middletown’s manicured front yards tell a more controversial story: Dueling lawn signs for Republicans and Democrats indicate political polarization has reached the point where readers of a local newspaper voted ‘best small town’ of Frederick County for 2022.

Politically, “it’s a 50-50 town,” says Lonnie Ropp, an insurance underwriter and former county GOP central committee member.

Middletown is a key battleground in Maryland’s 6th congressional district, the most competitive in an otherwise deep blue state. It stretches from a heavily Republican western region eastward to a Democratic-dominated strip of Montgomery County. Purple Frederick County sits right in the middle.

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The 6 is a good place to gauge whether Democrats could lose the House next Tuesday or, more realistically, by how much. Election night returns showing the defeat of incumbent Democratic Representative David Trone could mean the expected Republican wave has turned into a tsunami.

With a voter population that favored Joe Biden by 10 points in 2020, but with what both parties consider to be almost equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, the 6th is ranked a “skinny Democrat” by FiveThirtyEight, whose forecasting model enigmatic sees Trone beat GOP challenger Neil Parrott by precisely 51.6% to 48.4%, as of November 1.

John Miller, Middletown’s Democratic chief executive – nicknamed “bourgeois”, not mayor – says Trone’s actual margin will be “in double digits”. Trone, Miller told me, will gain a huge margin in Montgomery County and then carry Frederick County with the help of young liberal-leaning suburban families who have migrated to new subdivisions like the one on the outskirts of Middletown .

That’s certainly the scenario for the Throne victory – although Miller seemed mildly surprised to learn that internal polls from the campaign only show a five-point lead.

Parrott, a seasoned conservative activist and state legislator, hammers inflation, counting on western Maryland to offset Montgomery and betting rural areas of Frederick, where he made his career, will supply him with the majority of the 100,000 voices expected from this county.

Unfortunately for him, Trone, the millionaire founder of a chain of wine stores, has earmarked $12 million of his own money for the race. This spooked domestic GOP backers. Parrott has raised approximately $600,000.

He is also hampered by internal GOP divisions. Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Parrott sued — unsuccessfully — in 2020 over state restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (California) both backed the opponent. of Parrott in the Republican primary. Other than Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), who spoke at a recent Parrott rally, the national GOP barely lifted a finger for him.

It also doesn’t help Parrott to run on the same ticket as Dan Cox, the far-right gubernatorial candidate who beat Hogan’s chosen successor in the GOP gubernatorial primary, and is trailing the Democrat Wes Moore.

Yet Parrott knows the neighborhood. He and other Republicans fought for years to undo a Democratic gerrymander and make him more conservative-friendly – which finally prevailed in court earlier this year. That’s why the 6th includes Middletown and the rest of Frederick County.

Dynamic and seemingly younger than his 52 years, Parrott lost to Trone by almost 20 points in the 2020 version of the district. In this year’s rematch, he says he’s modeling his campaign on, of all things, progressive Democratic Rep. Jamie B. Raskin’s victory on a spendthrift throne in the 2016 Democratic primary from neighboring 8th Congressional District. “Jamie was a popular state senator, had a grassroots organization and beat Trone,” Parrott said.

One thing Raskin reportedly never did, however, was write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper suggesting that people living with HIV should wear special tattoos – like Parrott’s. did in 2005. He retracted that position in 2010, but it’s still fodder for Throne.

“Never mind,” Trone scoffs when I point out Parrott’s disavowal. “He wrote it down in the newspaper. It’s as crazy as it gets. The incumbent spoke to me as he greeted commuters at the Shady Grove subway station in Montgomery County. Many stopped by to say they voted for him early.

Calling himself “the guy in the middle”, Trone contrasted his moderate ideology not only with that of Parrott, but also with that of some members of his own party.

The Democrats “have absolutely gone too far to the left. Some people did,” he says, checking the name of Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) “and her crowd. Jayapal, he complained, “caused so much trouble” in 2021 by holding a bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage in an – ultimately futile – effort to leverage a Build Back Better social spending plan. of several trillions of dollars.

Trone’s words sounded like the kickoff of a post-election debate over party leadership. The Democrats’ internal arguments are likely to be intense even if the Republican wave isn’t strong enough to sweep it from Congress — and downright furious if it is.

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