HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Speculation that Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett will retire mounted Thursday as three prominent members of his own party announced they are considering running for his seat in a district made competitive by redistricting.
Bartlett said late Thursday that, “I’m still in the race.”
“I’m very anxious that we not lose this seat,” Bartlett said.
He said he feels he has the best chance of keeping the seat for Republicans and said he will run “with some vigor.”
Bartlett’s office said the 85-year-old western Maryland lawmaker is still seeking re-election to an 11th term. But Bartlett’s meager campaign fundraising– just $1,000 in the last quarter– has prompted some to conclude he plans to drop out.
On Thursday, state GOP Chairman and former state Sen. Alex X. Mooney, longtime Bartlett aide Harold “Bud” Otis and state Sen. David Brinkley said they are considering running for the seat. Mooney and Brinkley announced exploratory committees.
The state’s largely rural 6th Congressional District was redrawn this fall by Maryland’s Democratic leaders to bring in more of heavily Democratic Montgomery County, just outside Washington. The redistricting, to reflect population changes since the 2000 Census, is being challenged in court.
Mooney said in an interview that he’d support Bartlett if he ran hard but that the congressman doesn’t seem serious about raising funds for a race that Mooney estimated would cost each side $2 million to $3 million.
“At this moment, I don’t see him running,” Mooney said. “Somebody who raises only a $1,000 in a quarter when there’s a bull’s eye on them, it’s concerning,” he said.
Mooney, a conservative who once worked for Bartlett, said he’s forming a campaign fundraising committee. He said he plans to officially file as a candidate and step down as state party chairman in January.
He served three terms in the state Senate before becoming state GOP chairman last year.
Otis said he submitted his resignation as chief of staff Wednesday. He said his decision on whether to run would hinge largely on whether Bartlett stays in the race.
Otis, of Middletown, said he’s known Bartlett for 30 years and worked for him for a decade.
“Our service together to the 6th District was meaningful and important. However, the current path was less certain,” Otis said, citing his own desire for public office.
He wouldn’t say whether he thinks Bartlett should drop out.
“He’s always said he’ll retire when the good Lord tells him to,” Otis said.
Bartlett said in a written statement that he accepted the resignation but didn’t ask for it. The congressman said recent news reports about Otis seeking support for a possible run had made it impossible for the aide to serve effectively.
Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said Bartlett isn’t retiring.
“He’ll do what needs to be done. He’ll work hard, and he expects he’ll be successful,” she said. “The voters in the district will recognize that he works for them, will work for them and (that they) want to hire him to work for them.”
Brinkley said he has lined up support from most of the district’s Republican state legislators for a possible run.
A certified financial planner and small-business owner from Frederick County, Brinkley is in his third term in the state Senate after two terms in the House of Delegates.
Political scientist Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland-College Park, said Bartlett’s incumbency would give him a tremendous advantage if he stays in the race, but he’d also have to introduce himself to new voters in the redrawn district.
“It will be more competitive,” Herrnson said. “With those conditions, lots of members of his own party think they have an opportunity that they otherwise might not have thought they would have.”
State Sen. Rob Garagiola is considered the leading candidate among the three declared Democrats in the race. The others are former Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg and Dr. Milad Pooran, a physician from Jefferson.
Montgomery County businessman John Delaney has said he’s considering joining the race for the Democratic nomination.
The other declared Republicans are computer systems analyst Robert Coblentz of Williamsport; Montgomery County attorney and perennial candidate Robin Ficker; Brandon Rippeon of Darnestown; and businessman Joseph Krysztoforski of Baltimore County.
The redrawn 6th District is composed of Garrett, Alleghany and Washington counties, as well as southern Frederick County and western Montgomery County.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)