The two Democratic primary candidates in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District share more in common than their burning desire to unseat the Republican incumbent.
Former Montgomery County delegate Heather Mizeur and career foreign service officer David Harden both say they became motivated to run by their outrage over the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.
Each campaign focuses on reviving the district’s economy, expanding healthcare and sparking innovative environmental solutions among farmers and watermen. And each one thinks they can earn enough traditionally conservative votes — in the state’s most Republican-leaning district — to beat six-term Congressman Andy Harris.
They must convince district Democrats voting in the July 19 primary to tag them into the race first.
However, the district’s boundaries, redrawn in April after months of legislative and legal battles, won’t help Democrats, according to St. Mary’s College of Maryland politics professor Todd Eberly.
“The reality is that what it takes for a Democrat to win that district is a completely different set of district lines,” Eberly said.
Whoever wins will face statistical hurdles to earn enough votes in a district where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats and turn out to vote in higher percentages.
The now-11-county map kept Harford County, all nine Eastern Shore counties and a north-south slice of eastern Baltimore County, while dropping Carroll County altogether.
Harris, an anesthesiologist, currently is the only Republican in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. He’s a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, an outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump and the center of a number of controversies, including being stopped at a House security checkpoint in possession of a handgun and declaring in a radio interview that he prescribed ivermectin to treat COVID-19 despite the Food and Drug Administration not approving the anti-parasitic drug for the illness.
He captured nearly two-thirds of the vote in winning reelection in 2020. Harris did not respond to a request for comment from The Baltimore Banner.
Harden campaigns as a centrist
Harden said he’s building a campaign focused on economic solutions that will appeal to “Hogan Republicans.”
“I’m running in rural communities for people who have been left behind, and to do so you have to moderate,” he told The Baltimore Banner.
Mizeur can’t win against Harris because she’s too far left, Harden said. “If the Democrats want to win, then they have to nominate a person who can,” he said. “And that’s me.”
As Harden rose through the ranks of the foreign service, he changed his affiliation to independent. On switching to Democrat in 2021, Harden said Democrats ”have a better vision for what the future can be,” both economically and democratically.
“Democracy is not self-executed, you gotta protect and defend it,” he said.
Until the April redistricting trimmed Carroll County from the 1st Congressional District, the first-time political candidate’s 22.5-acre Westminster farm he’s owned since 2002 sat squarely inside district boundaries.
The shifting district boundaries have led to arguing about who is really from the district. Mizeur supporters say Harden’s primary Westminster address and his second home in Washington, D.C., make him an outsider. Harden disagreed, saying his roots on both shores go back hundreds of years. He added that Mizeur moved to the Eastern Shore just under a decade ago, and Harris grew up in the boroughs of New York.
As an assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, appointed by former President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2016, Harden has represented American interests and influenced economies in high-conflict zones around the world, like Iraq, Yemen and the West Bank and Gaza — experience he says translates into repairing a broken and neglected Eastern Shore economy.
”I listened very closely to aggrieved people that have been left behind,” he said. “And that’s what you have here.”
Harden says he has the endorsement of over two hundred national security officials and has earned the support of local leaders, like Tarence Bailey, the fifth generation grand nephew of Frederick Douglass.
”Dave sought me out,” said Bailey, a Talbot County resident. “He asked me about the community … what it’s lacking and what it needs to become better.”
Two registered Republicans and watermen, Robert Newberry and Jeff Harrison, also praised Harden. Both said they will consider voting for a Democrat in the general election because they’re tired of Harris’ lack of action on issues critical to their livelihoods, like stopping upstream polluters and alleviating onerous inspection regulations.
Newberry said Harden will “make a difference” and cares about the watermen. The chairman of the Delmarva Fisheries Association, who spoke on his own behalf, said, “I definitely think not a single waterman will vote for Heather Mizeur from the Eastern Shore.”
Harrison, president of the Talbot Watermen Association, speaking for himself, said he’s heard from members that they respected Harden’s message.
“He does look like he seriously wants to help us,” Harrison said. “So if there would be a Democrat that I would vote for, it would be him.”
Mizeur focused on the general
Mizeur is staying focused on the incumbent and said new district borders won’t determine voter decisions.
”No matter where you draw the map in the first congressional district, Andy Harris has been a pretty lousy congressman,” she said. “What I consistently hear from the Republicans who are supporting me is that he doesn’t show up, doesn’t listen, doesn’t deliver.”
Mizeur’s campaign to defeat Harris, unite divided communities and “rise above partisanship” has resonated with donors. So far, her campaign has raised five times more money than her Democratic opponent and more than Harden and Harris combined.
“We have had failed representation that has embarrassed us for too long. And I’m providing an alternative that is exciting people about the possibilities,” Mizeur told The Baltimore Banner.
According to Mizeur’s campaign, 77% of donors hail from Maryland and 85% of all donations have been $100 or less.
Mizeur, who in 2014 came in third in the Democratic gubernatorial primary behind then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and former Attorney General Douglas Gansler, said she’s taking nothing for granted in this race.
”We’re working hard to make sure that our voters turn out on July 19, while keeping focused on the real competition here, which is defeating Andy Harris in November.”
During a listening tour last year, Mizeur most often heard constituents’ voice concerns on the economy, healthcare and the environment, she said. Based on those conversations, her campaign built a plan that includes promises to address inflation, make permanent small businesses tax cuts and tailor workforce training dollars to the meet the needs of district businesses.
Mizeur’s time in state and local offices has overlapped with other high-profile political roles.
From 2007 through 2015, Mizeur represented Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly. And for a time, she sat on the Health and Government Operations Committee while working as a federal health care lobbyist for K&L Gates, and eventually her own firm, Mizeur Group.
Her campaign spokesperson said Mizeur drew firm boundaries between the two roles. “Throughout her time working for Marylanders in the legislature, Heather was extremely careful never to mix her private work on federal issues with her state legislative duties,” Mike Cross-Barnet said.
She also crafted domestic policy for then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign while serving as a Takoma Park City Council member in 2003 to 2005, according to her campaign website.
”I have a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder who knows how to get things done. I turned plans into action, ideas into laws,” she said.
Mizeur was endorsed by the largest state employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3 in June. And she’s received public support from dozens of current and former federal, state and local officials. Among them is the district’s former Republican congressman, Wayne Gilchrest, who held the seat from 1991 to 2009.
Gilchrest lost in the primary to Harris, who back in 2008 rode the conservative Tea Party wave only to lose to Democrat Frank Kratovil. Harris then beat Kratovil in 2010 and has represented the district ever since.
A pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, former Republican, Gilchrest changed his party affiliation to Democrat about seven years ago, he told The Baltimore Banner. He said Mizeur has “smart policy ideas,” a “very informed world view,” and “is just a good person.”
Also attesting to Mizeur’s ability to get things done, former Dorchester County Commissioner Jeff Powell said Mizeur helped him secure state finances to demolish the decommissioned Dorchester General Hospital, clearing a path for a Choptank River development project.
The pair met at a reef ball installation project last year, and he took her up on her offer to call should he need anything.
“Every time I’ve asked her to do something, she’s been able to do it, and she’s delivered,” he said.
If the race were between Mizeur and Harris today, for whom would the registered Republican Powell vote? He answered, “I would probably say Heather.”
Marylanders interested in finding their voting district, polling center and registration status should check with the Maryland State Board of Elections voter lookup.