Harris Defeats Colvin for Dist. 1 US House Seat; GOP Incumbent Battled Young Veteran, Democrat

November 6, 2018

Andy Harris, the incumbent Republican for Maryland’s First District US House seat, won a bitterly contested fight against Jesse Colvin, a Democrat and first-time political candidate, as the overwhelmingly Republican district held to its majority party roots amid signs of discontent and an erosion of Harris support in some key areas.

The District, which covers all of the Eastern Shore, including Cecil County, and parts of three counties on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, is the most heavily Republican in the state by voter registration but Colvin had pinned his hopes on independents and cross-over voters.

But Harris carried the district with 60.5 percent of the vote, while Colvin received 37.6 percent. A Libertarian candidate, Jenica Martin, received 1.9 percent of the vote.

In Cecil County, the county’s GOP majority held sway, with Harris winning 61 percent of the local vote to Colvin’s 36.7 percent. Martin received 2.3 percent.

But another GOP majority county, Talbot, switched course in the election, giving a 50.7 percent majority to Colvin and 47.8 percent to Harris. Easton was a hotbed of pro-Colvin support and activism, as well as the site of the only live, public debate between the two candidates during the race.

[UPDATE: Kent County, which has a slight Democratic registration majority, also went for Colvin, giving him 53.6 percent of the vote, to Harris’s 44.9 percent.]

For the first time since he wrestled the District 1 seat away from Democrat Frank Kratovil in 2010, Harris faced a well-funded challenger who drew bipartisan support, including some former top national Republican officials. There was also a torrent of Letters to the Editor in local newspapers from pro-Colvin writers, while Harris’ supporters were largely silent in the letters columns but robust in their endorsements in brief comments on Harris’ social media pages.

Harris,61, is one of the most conservative Republicans in the House, with an 88 percent support rate for legislation backed by President Trump, and is a member of the “Freedom Caucus,” which pushes for legislative approaches that are at times more conservative than the President or House GOP leaders’ agendas. Colvin billed himself as a moderate Democrat who would work across party lines for the benefit of the district and his campaign motto was “Country over Party.”

During the campaign, Colvin,34,—a former US Army Ranger who served four combat tours in Afghanistan and holds a master’s degree in international relations—criticized Harris, a doctor and anesthesiologist, for multiple votes on Republican initiatives to repeal the Affordable Care Act and its protections for coverage of pre-existing medical conditions. Harris countered that he voted for a “repeal and replace” bill that would have allowed insurers to cover such conditions but it was defeated in the Senate.

Even in the final hours of the campaign, Colvin criticized Harris’ positions on health care, with brief ads appearing on newspaper websites and social media. Apart from his own campaign ads, independent expenditures by a local Eastern Shore political action committee (PAC) and national support from pro-veterans PACs bolstered Colvin’s candidacy with their own ads on Facebook and other social media.

And Colvin received some last-minute donations directly to his campaign, including a $1,000 contribution from the League of Conservation Voters and $2,000 from the campaign account of Peter Franchot, the state Comptroller and a Democrat, who was expected to coast to re-election to another term in Tuesday’s elections. Harris got a last-minute donation of $4,000 from the American Council of Engineering PAC in Washington; $1,000 from the Cigar PAC; and $2,500 from the Citizens United Political Victory Fund. (A Supreme Court decision involving Citizens United led to elimination of donation limits on so-called “Super PACs.”)

Colvin declined to accept PAC donations from industry-aligned groups while Harris’s campaign fund is heavily laden with PAC donations, especially from health industry and medical specialties groups.

From the beginning, Colvin faced an uphill fight for the District 1 House seat due to the lopsided Republican majority in voter registration. District 1 has the largest Republican registration advantage of the state’s 8 congressional districts, as a result of the General Assembly-approved re-districting maps that put as many Republicans as possible into this district, after the 2010 census, so as to make another Western Maryland/Montgomery County district more favorable for Democrats.

District 1 has 228,965 registered Republicans while Democrats number 173,542, a difference of 55,423 voters. Unaffiliated voter registration stands at 92,919, according to the state Board of Elections.

In the final days of the campaign, Harris portrayed himself as half of the “Hogan-Harris team,” holding on to the coattails of the popular Republican Governor Larry Hogan, who easily won re-election on Tuesday with broad bipartisan support.

As Harris appealed for party loyalty, Colvin went on the air with his new TV ad that pitched bipartisanship as reflected in his bipartisan marriage. The ad was in virtual non-stop rotation on over the air broadcasts of local news programs as well as airing on some cable TV programs.

The ad opened with Jordan Colvin donning eye and ear protective gear at a firing range, as her status as a former police officer and a Republican is flashed on the screen. She then introduces her husband as a former Army Ranger and veteran of four combat tours in Afghanistan, and “well, a Democrat.” She then touts him as part of “a new generation of leadership” and tosses an offhand “and he won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi” as she and her husband fire handguns at a paper target. Pelosi is the leader of Democrats in the US House and a frequent target of Republicans’ criticism.

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