If you had asked me before the weekend whether I thought Charles Lollar had a chance to unseat Steny Hoyer, my response would have been something like “No, but it sure would be nice”. Hoyer is Nancy Pelosi’s right-hand man in the House and, thanks to his relentless use of taxpayer dollars, he has built himself quite a comfortable nest in the mostly blue state of Maryland. I haven’t seen any polling out of the district, even though I live here, because there just hasn’t been a good need to spend the money. Hoyer is a juggernaut whose constituents love him, right? Why bother?
Well, there are a couple things in this piece from The Hill that make me wonder if we might not see the upset of the night right here in Southern Maryland. The story is your basic “strong incumbent shores up big support at home” except that the stories the reporter found were not all that supportive. Here’s the first one.
Hoyer is not an endangered Democrat, not by a long shot. Maryland’s 5th district is considered solid blue, and he won reelection in 2008 with 74 percent of the vote. Yet as he greeted residents and toured shops along Main Street in Laurel late last week, he was confronted by the same economic disconnect that has imperiled Democrats across the country.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is that things have gotten better,” Hoyer told Debbie Zook, 56, who has owned a flower shop on Main Street for 25 years.
Zook was shaking her head. She told Hoyer business had not improved at all for the store, where sales have dropped by one-third in the past four years. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay taxes on my building,” Zook said. “I can barely make payroll every other week.
“I want to be positive, but I just don’t know,” she told her congressman.
That smells like trouble to me. Hoyer thought he’d pop in and deliver a little economic happy talk. There’d be pictures and maybe a little sentence of appreciation from the awestruck voter. Instead, he ran into a small business owner who told him, very politely, that he was peddling bunk. That wasn’t the only time it happened, either.
He ran into one dissatisfied constituent during his tour of Main Street, when a simple introduction turned quickly into a polite but tense political debate. “I’m very concerned about the state of our economy. What are you going to do about the deficit that’s been created by the Congress in the last four years?” asked the middle-aged woman, who declined to give her name.
Hoyer started to correct her. “The deficit, actually, has been created over the last eight years,” he began, but the woman interrupted him. “And you’ve been in Congress how long?” she asked.
“Thirty years,” Hoyer replied.
He tried again, telling the constituent that the deficit was created by “two large tax cuts we didn’t pay for” and “two wars we haven’t paid for.”
Again the woman interrupted: “Did you approve those wars?” Hoyer replied that he did.
Before parting ways, Hoyer told her: “If you think that this happened in the last four years, you are buying a message that was inaccurate, and you will make decisions going forward that will be inaccurate.”
After the exchange, the woman told The Hill she had contributed money to Hoyer’s opponent and would be voting “for change in all areas” on Tuesday.
Now that’s real trouble, not just because this lady challenged him like he’s probably not been seriously challenged by a constituent in a long time, but because The Hill printed the whole exchange. Look at the textual clues in the exchange. Hoyer “started to correct her”, as if she were a child who needed instruction. He “tried again” as if her problem wasn’t disagreement but ignorance. He then finished up with a petulant parting shot and made very sure he had the last word. That’s not the sign of a confident politician who has his race in the bag. Hoyer is worried. That’s why he was out in Laurel, a city that sits right on the border of two of the most reliably-Democratic counties in the entire state.
Likewise, notice the account of the stop he made along the way. He gave a speech, in which he praised the owners of the business to high Heaven, but the reporter couldn’t find one person to give Hoyer a glowing quote. I guarantee you that if someone had been there to do that, you would have seen at least a line from them in the story, some throwaway quote about what a good man Hoyer is or how he’s a friend of the working man. The entire tone of the story after the first paragraph or so is that of a man trying to hold onto power, not one confidently wielding it.
All of that is giving me reason to doubt myself today. What if all our assumptions have been wrong? What if the lack of polling has allowed Lollar, who has run a very energetic campaign, to creep up within striking distance? What if we’ve been sleeping on this race because, well, who thinks that a guy who has basically bought his way into one of the safest seats in Congress can get beat my a first-time candidate?
Well, wouldn’t that be something to see?
Category: Our New Democratic Overlords