The cluster of Democrats seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., in Congress includes a tycoon, two state lawmakers, a pediatrician, a retired economist and a retired intelligence officer.
But only one candidate – state Del. Aruna Miller, Montgomery – is drawing the attention of the state’s Republican Party organization, which in the past couple of weeks has sent mass mailings attacking her as weak on crime and immigration.
“Delegate Aruna Miller is making your neighborhood go downhill,” one mailing announced in bold lettering. The other claimed she is “rolling out the red carpet” for criminals.
The timing of the Republican onslaught – more than two months before the June 26 Democratic primary – has caught the attention of Maryland’s political establishment and signals that the GOP views Miller as the greatest threat to the party recapturing the 6th District, which stretches from Montgomery County to the state’s western reaches.
It was represented by Republican Roscoe Bartlett from 1993 until 2013, when Gov. Martin O’Malley, D, and the Democratic-majority legislature redrew the boundaries in an effort that has been challenged by Republicans as unfairly partisan and is under Supreme Court review.
Maryland GOP chair Dirk Haire did not return numerous calls asking why his organization is inserting itself into the Democratic primary, a tactic that both parties have employed in recent years in other states.
Scott Sloofman, a campaign spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, R, the party’s highest-ranking official in Maryland, said in an email that “the governor doesn’t control what the state party does and he has never seen these mailers.”
But Paul Ellington, a political consultant advising Amie Hoeber, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Delaney’s seat, said his candidate is likely to stand out more if she doesn’t have to face another woman in a year in which women’s issues have been at the center of the country’s political discourse.
“I would like it if Amie was the only woman in there,” said Ellington, who added that he played no role in the conception or distribution of the mailers. “She could appeal to a certain segment of the electorate, meaning people who think having a woman’s point of view is a plus. It clouds the issue with Aruna as the nominee.”
The 6th District includes heavily Democratic portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties, but also enough solidly Republican terrain in more rural Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties to make it potentially competitive for both parties. Delaney is leaving after three terms to run for president. Since 1961, voters in the district have elected three Republicans and three Democrats to the seat.
Miller, who joined the House of Delegates in 2011, has been endorsed by Emily’s List, the political action committee that seeks to promote abortion rights Democrats who are women. A past president of the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus, she has the backing of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., whose PAC is contributing to female candidates nationwide. In Annapolis, Miller has pushed legislation requiring universities to update their sexual assault policies and a measure requiring additional protections for domestic violence victims.
Her opponents include state Sen. Roger Manno, Montgomery, and David Trone, the owner of a chain of liquor stores who is running after having spent $13 million of his own money in 2016 in a losing campaign in Maryland’s 8th District.
Trone is flexing his financial muscle again in the race. In December, he reported that he had donated $2.2 million to his campaign and had nearly $800,000 in the bank. Miller had $752,000, while Manno had $284,000. Nadia Hashimi, a pediatrician who has also contributed to her own campaign, reported $348,000 in her account.
The state GOP’s first mailer, sent out in early April, attacked Miller for sponsoring legislation that would bar state and local authorities from questioning individuals about their immigration status. Miller was among 58 sponsors of the bill, which died in the House.
“Delegate Aruna Miller is treating criminals like celebrities,” the mailer said, adding that MS-13 gangs have “invaded neighborhoods” and “we are losing the battle against opioids.”
The second mailer rips Miller for being among 31 co-sponsors of legislation that would allow community-based organizations to establish facilities to treat drug addiction and infectious diseases. It accuses Miller of seeking to “bring drug dens to our neighborhoods” and encourages voters to “tell” the delegate that “her bad bills jeopardize your family’s safety.”
Miller, an engineer who was born in India, responded quickly, accusing Republicans of “unprecedented attempts at interfering in our Democratic primary with their fearmongering and false attacks.”
The delegate wrote in emails to potential donors that the Republicans are “doubling down on their attacks against me and our campaign . . . Can I count on you to stand with me and rush in a donation right now so we can fight back?”
Pollster Keith Haller said the GOP’s attack suggests that the Republicans view Miller “as the stronger general election opponent, or they want to exploit the anti-immigration issue in the fall and Miller becomes an easy symbolic target for this emotional exploitation.”
In recent years, Republicans and Democrats in several states have sought to influence the other’s primaries as a way of gaining the best matchup.
In Missouri in 2012, for example, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D, helped Republican Todd Akin in the GOP primary by branding him the state’s “most conservative congressman.” Akin won the primary, but lost to McCaskill in the general election.
Michael Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor who has chaired both the state GOP and the Republican National Committee, praised Republicans for targeting Miller, saying that “she’s perceived as a strong potential candidate.”
“It’s good to see that level of aggression from the GOP,” Steele said.
But Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., described the mailings as an “invasion” and a “propaganda campaign” intended to “inflame peoples’ biases on issues of crime and race.”
“It’s an ugly playbook that they have unleashed,” Raskin said. “They have enough problems of their own. They should mind their own business.”