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Bartlett Draws Primary Challenge

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s chief of staff is soliciting the support of Maryland Republicans to run for his boss’ seat should Bartlett retire. And to top it off, the buzz about whether the 10-term Congressman will retire thanks to the dismantling of his district in redistricting has prompted a state Senator to say he’ll run, even if it means challenging Bartlett, 85, in a primary.

Maryland state Del. Neil Parrott told Roll Call that Bartlett Chief of Staff Bud Otis had sought his support to seek Bartlett’s seat in the newly drawn 6th district “approximately two weeks ago.” Others in the state have heard about Otis’ solicitations, all premised upon a Bartlett retirement.

State Sen. David Brinkley will run for the GOP nomination and, “if necessary,” will primary the longtime Congressman, according to his friend and supporter, state Del. LeRoy Myers. Myers told Roll Call that even though Brinkley has not officially announced, “things are being put in motion today. … He’s running. Period.”

Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright insisted today that the Congressman’s “status has not changed,” saying her boss intends to seek re-election.

“He’ll do what he needs to do to run, and he expects to win,” she said. Wright would not say if Otis is making calls but described him as “loyal” and a longtime “personal friend” to Bartlett.

Otis would not directly answer Roll Call’s questions about whether he would run should his boss head for the exit.

“This is a very fluid time in our office,” Otis said. “And the Congressman, to my knowledge, is running. So I don’t know that I have anything to add to that at the moment.”

State Sen. Robert Garagiola and former Montgomery County Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg have officially announced their candidacies on the Democratic side, and Montgomery County businessman John Delaney is in the exploratory phase of running for the Democratic nod.

In the weeks since his once-safe seat was gerrymandered to transform it into a seat that Roll Call Politics rates Leans Democratic, Bartlett has insisted that he’s running, even though he raised only a paltry $1,000 in the third quarter and has long topped retirement watch lists. And Republicans who wanted to see him step aside kept their powder dry.

But reports by the conservative blog “Red Maryland” and the Maryland Reporter set off a scramble among state Republicans today.

State Republican Party Chairman Alex Mooney, who once worked for Bartlett, is among the contenders rethinking things and said he’s been encouraged to “start running.”

“I had people coming up to me that had been wanting me to run for Congress, and I was holding off out of loyalty to Congressman Bartlett,” Mooney said. “I figured that, well, if the Congressman’s chief of staff is going around getting people to support him, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with me doing the same thing.”

Republican state Sen. Christopher Shank is also discussed as a contender but did not return calls.

Myers, who considered running for the seat himself, voiced what several Marylanders have said they think might be going on, speculating that Barlett wants to pass the torch to his top aide.

“I just wonder if this wasn’t the plan all along,” Myers said.

Wright dismissed such talk as “speculation.”

In an interview with Roll Call last week, Otis gave no indication he’d been having conversations about running for Congress himself and was bullish on Bartlett’s re-election prospects: “He’s held that seat for 20 years now. It’s his to lose. Somebody has got to beat him. And I don’t see anybody out there that can do that.”

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