A leading candidate in the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District released an ad this week negatively targeting his top opponent.

The ad approved by former U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn’s campaign questions the voting record and political leanings of state Sen. Sarah Elfreth and dropped just before early in-person voting begins on Thursday.

Elfreth and Dunn have similar stances on policy issues and are leading the pack of 22 Democrats running to represent all of Howard County, central and northern Anne Arundel County and a small piece of Carroll County. The seat opened after U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes announced he would not seek reelection.

Elfreth’s fundraising efforts have positioned her to launch a formidable media campaign stretching across the district but has landed her far behind Dunn’s more than $3.77 million haul. Dunn has far outraised Elfreth and others, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

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The 30-second ad makes several claims about Elfreth’s voting record during her more than five years as a state senator and aligns her with “MAGA Republicans.”

The ad criticizes the Anne Arundel County Democrat for voting several dozen times with her Republican colleagues in the Senate on the hundreds of bills and amendments she’s voted on during her tenure as a state senator. In Annapolis, partisan divides aren’t always as stark as they are on Capitol Hill, and parties sometimes reach common ground on bills and amendments.

Elfreth’s campaign manager, Pat Murray, said Dunn is distorting her record “in a last-ditch effort to save his campaign.”

“Voters know Sarah fought to protect access to abortion and crack down on gun violence, and they can count on her to lead on these issues in Congress,” Murray said.

When asked about the ad, Dunn’s campaign responded with a press release that didn’t address their motivations.

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The statement on Dunn’s campaign website, highlights the former cop’s service defending the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, against a violent pro-Donald Trump mob seeking to interrupt the certification of the presidential election.

“I’m the only candidate in this race with a proven track record of standing up to them,” Dunn said in the statement. “Even in the toughest of circumstances.”

Other claims made by the Dunn campaign in the ad say Elfreth “helped protect an insurrection-supporting Republican seat,” a claim that’s paired with a photo of U.S. Rep. Andy Harris.

Here’s what the Dunn campaign is basing that on: Following the 2020 Census, Maryland lawmakers approved new congressional district boundaries that left Harris’ Eastern Shore-based district largely intact. They could have put more Democrats into the district by sweeping in more of Anne Arundel County on the Western Shore but did not.

The Dunn ad cites a piece in Slate from the time that alleged, citing anonymous sources, that Elfreth was opposed to having the Annapolis area put into a competitive congressional district. In the end, courts threw out the map anyway and it had to be redrawn to the current version, with Harris still in an Eastern Shore district that also includes Harford County and parts of Baltimore County.

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The ad also claims Elfreth is “getting millions of dollars in ads paid for by a right-wing super PAC funded by Trump donors.” The United Democracy Project, the super PAC arm of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has been running ads promoting Elfreth’s campaign. Donors to such organizations can be difficult to track. The Dunn ad also cites a Slate piece that names several donors to the United Democracy Project who also have donated to Trump.

The commentator in the ad asks “why” the super PAC would give money to Elfreth’s campaign and answers by using her voting record as the reason, including votes the ad claims “opposed safeguards against police misconduct.”

Two votes Elfreth made were for unsuccessful Maryland Senate Republican amendments to a police accountability bill in 2021, in which some other Democrats joined Elfreth in siding with the Republicans.

The third vote was against a bill in 2023 that gave the Maryland attorney general the power to prosecute cases when police kill people. Before the law, the attorney general only investigated such cases and prosecution was the responsibility of local state’s attorneys.

Lastly, a claim Elfreth “was the only Democrat who voted to make it harder to vote by mail” was based on a Democratic-sponsored bill in 2022 that made adjustments to how mail-in ballots are handled.

Elfreth voted for the overall bill, but she was the only Democratic senator to side with Republicans on a failed amendment that would have limited people to picking up and delivering only 10 ballots for other voters. On another failed Republican amendment, Elfreth was one of two Democrats to join Republicans. The bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Larry Hogan.

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