Yuripzy Morgan had a career in the hot take world of conservative talk radio, but the congressional candidate — unlike fellow Republicans — has turned down the heat as she challenges an eight-term incumbent in central Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District.
Morgan, who is also an attorney, is challenging Rep. John Sarbanes in a district that, following redistricting, now includes all of Howard County, the northern portion of Anne Arundel County and a sliver of Carroll County.
Morgan eschews some of the GOP’s more radical rhetoric in favor of complaints against Sarbanes that she believes can sway moderate Maryland voters. “I wouldn’t run against an incumbent who was actually doing the work,” Morgan said, “but what’s very frustrating about Sarbanes is this sense of entitlement. He only wants to win this race so he can run for Senate. … What was the last thing he ever did for this congressional district?”
In a written statement provided to The Baltimore Banner, Sarbanes said he is running on returning “to a government of, by and for the people ... strengthening our democracy is a top priority.”
Sarbanes said he “led the charge in Congress to limit the influence of Big Money in politics” with H.R. 1, the For the People Act, which expands voting options and adds more campaign finance rules, including requiring super PACs to disclose their donors. He also leans heavily on his environmentally-friendly voting record, and landmark legislation of Joe Biden’s administration that he helped pass, such as the Inflation Reduction Act.
Sarbanes cruised to an easy victory in the primary elections over the summer, beating out two challengers with about 85% of the vote.
Even though Democratic primary turnout in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District nearly doubled that of the Republican primary, Morgan’s hopes are bolstered by the new district.
Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia of the state’s 3rd Appellate Judicial Circuit threw out the Maryland state legislature’s original plan on March 25, citing “extreme partisan gerrymandering” that favored Democratic candidates; a new map, praised by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan as a “massive improvement,” was signed into law just 10 days later.
Morgan still faces long odds to knock off Sarbanes. FiveThirtyEight gives a 14-point advantage to Sarbanes in the district; this is a significant downgrade from the 32-point advantage that he had in the old district, but still a high bar to clear for a Republican challenger.
Morgan’s platform is closer to the political center than other Republican primary winners around Maryland — such as gubernatorial nominee Del. Dan Cox, who bused participants to the Jan. 6 insurrection, and attorney general candidate Michael Peroutka, who once held a leadership position in the secessionist and white supremacist League of the South. Morgan hopes she can convince disaffected former Sarbanes voters to opt for her on Election Day.
Morgan took on the issue of abortion in a Washington Post op-ed, trying to neutralize concerns that abortion rights supporters might have in voting for a Republican following the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down federal abortion protections in June.
“I did not choose abortion, and I never will,” she wrote, “But I will not make that decision for another woman, nor do I think the government should do it for her,” concluding that she is “pro-women.” Morgan later said she was frustrated by Sen. Lindsey Graham’s “error” in the introduction of a bill in September to codify a nationwide ban on abortion in most cases after 15 weeks.
Morgan, whose parents are immigrants from Latin America, has a less hardline take on immigration than others in her party, as well. Although she does support “the border barrier,” she decried the recent transporting of immigrants to liberal city centers by Republican governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott. In her eyes, there needs to be paths to citizenship for different kinds of workers.
“This is my heritage,” she said, “we need workers in this country. We don’t have enough people in this country who are willing to do the work that needs to get done.”
Morgan is also hoping to capitalize on some of Sarbanes’ perceived affronts to minority residents in his district.
There are over 26,000 people of Indian descent living in Howard County, according to the U.S. Census’ 2019 American Community Survey. Many of them were troubled by Sarbanes’ co-sponsoring of H.R. 1196 with Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, which would condemn India for human rights abuses against non-Hindus in the country.
Niti Srivastava, head of the Indian Cultural Association of Howard County, said her family has supported Sarbanes and other Democrats for decades — until now. Sarbanes’ support of H.R. 1196 “gives her pause,” she said. “Either you’re listening to voices that are special interests … or just not looking at the reality.”
In contrast, Srivastava is excited to vote for Morgan. “Yuripzy’s great,” she said, “she’s smart, she’s articulate, she’s got new ideas. That’s why we’re supporting her.”
Sarbanes was scheduled to appear alongside Morgan at an Indian cultural festival in Howard County in September, but backed out at the last minute, according to Morgan. Morgan also said that Sarbanes has turned down debate and forum opportunities from entities ranging from Fox45 to the Chinese American Parent Association.
Morgan feels slighted by Sarbanes’ refusal to engage with her or her ideas. “You have an incumbent who claims to support women and minorities, but won’t even acknowledge that I exist,” she said.
It will take a lot more than that to sway some longtime Maryland Democrats, though. Tom Coale, a Howard County attorney and host of a talk show on WBAL, says there’s too much at stake.
“I’ve had Yuripzy on [my show], I think she’s great,” Coale said, “but I’m just not going to have a part in handing the [House] speakership to [Kevin] McCarthy … the Republican party needs a total reset.”
But some historically blue voters, the base that Sarbanes and other Democrats need to motivate in November, are feeling less than enthused.
Lena Spadacene, a Howard County resident, is wholly unfamiliar with any of Sarbanes’ work. “Everything that I want out of my community … I don’t see getting done by our elected officials,” she said, adding that she hasn’t felt like she was “picking the lesser of two evils” at the ballot box since voting for Barack Obama in 2008. Even in 2012, she said, her enthusiasm for Obama had dwindled.
While voters like her are disaffected by a lack of action from Democrats, Coale thinks that Sarbanes and his colleagues have taken the right tack in their campaigning primarily against Republicans, rather than for new or improved policies.
“Democrats are going to see some nationwide defeats,” Coale said. “Maryland is looking to be an exemplar of when things go well.” Coale acknowledged the frustration of people concerned about their quality of life, but still thinks that the anti-Republican advertising tactic is strong.
Spadacene has voted for Democrats in almost every election, but this time, she doesn’t think she’ll make up her mind until she’s in the car on the way to vote in November. How could the Democratic Party get her back on the bandwagon?
“Do what they say they’re going to do,” like Obama’s campaign promise to codify the Roe v. Wade decision, she said, “and admit when they’re wrong.”
Jon Meltzer is a Maryland-based freelance journalist.