The campaign for the U.S. House in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District is expected to be the site of the closest congressional race in the state come Nov. 8.
Democratic Rep. David Trone, who’s running for a third term, handily beat Republican Del. Neil Parrott two years ago. But redistricting has reshaped the district — which now stretches from the northern tip of Montgomery County west into Frederick, Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties. Some election watchers see the rematch as more like a tossup.
Trone says voters are “looking for someone who can get stuff done,” and that he’s delivered for them over the past four years. He says Parrott has extreme positions, pointing to a 2005 letter to the editor Parrott wrote suggesting people with HIV should be tattooed to slow the spread of the virus.
Parrot says Trone has rubber-stamped massive spending from the Biden administration, that spending has contributed to inflation, and that Trone is trying to deceive voters about Parrott’s past statements about people with HIV.
WTOP spoke with both candidates about the issues they think matter to voters.
Trone on the economy: ‘Too much inflation’
While gas prices have fallen from record highs earlier this year, prices for food, housing, medical care and other services continue to take a big bite of people’s paychecks.
“There’s no question, we’ve got too much inflation,” Trone told WTOP. “A lot of it’s due to what’s happened with Russia and Ukraine on food prices, on gasoline prices.”
Trone said the Biden administration has taken steps to get a handle on rising prices, pointing to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. The measure caps prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients, extends health insurance subsidies and adds new tax credits for homeowners who invest in energy-efficient equipment and for the purchase of electric vehicles with batteries made with U.S. materials.
“President Biden passed a very good bill on inflation,” Trone said, “but it’s gonna take time” for voters to feel the benefits.
Overall, Trone has been a reliable vote for the Biden administration’s big-ticket initiatives, such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which pumped billions toward Maryland to help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is slated to send more than $405 million to Maryland to improve roads and bridges and to expand broadband access.
Recent polls show while most Americans say higher prices largely stem from factors outside the president’s control, a majority of Americans also disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy.
Asked about Biden’s handling of the economy and whether there are areas where Trone disagrees with the president’s approach, Trone said, “I think the president is thinking long-term about the American people … These are big deals that he got accomplished. But Americans want everything now, now, now. But infrastructure, manufacturing — they take some time before you see the results.”
Some Republicans now argue the surge in government spending contributed to the steep rise in inflation.
Trone acknowledged “there may have been too much in the American Rescue Plan on some of the money that we punched out to states,” noting that “a lot of the states are very flush with cash right now.” But as for Republican attacks on spending, he said, “Right now, folks are just so tired of the rhetoric.”
Parrott on economy: Balance the budget
Parrott, Trone’s Republican challenger, is one of those critics who says the federal government needs to clamp down on spending to reduce inflation.
“We have to bring down inflation by having a balanced budget,” he said, adding: “We cannot afford to spend trillions of dollars that we don’t have, that we’re borrowing from China or that we’re just printing. We don’t have it. When you do things like that, inflation goes sky-high, and that’s where we are right now. People can’t afford to pay their food bills. People can’t afford to fill up with gasoline.”
Parrott criticized the Inflation Reduction Act, saying it was filled with unrelated measures that won’t have any impact on reducing prices and could make things worse. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported the bill would have only a “negligible” impact on reducing inflation).
“It actually cost us another half a trillion dollars,” he said of the bill. “This is stuff we just simply can’t afford.”
Given his criticism of government spending, WTOP asked Parrott whether he would have voted against the infrastructure bill that set aside billions for Maryland’s roads and bridges.
“You know what? The Indians got some trinkets, but we got the gold,” Parrott said. “That’s what’s happening right now. They’re selling us little pieces of things but they’re actually killing us. They’re killing our families; they’re killing the economy.”
In addition to cutting spending, Parrott also said he believes moving to energy independence by offering oil and gas companies long-term leases will “trickle across the whole economy and help inflation come back down.”
HIV tattoo flashpoint
One of the biggest flashpoints in the race deals with comments Parrott made in a 2005 letter to the editor in which he suggested people with HIV should be tattooed and that medicine should be provided “only after they have received the HIV tattoo.”
The Trone campaign released an ad drawing attention to the op-ed featuring images children with HIV tattooed on their arms.
“Anyone that could come up with the idea of putting a tattoo on folks that have HIV or withhold their medicine — I mean that is extremist,” Trone told WTOP. “It’s mind-boggling. We can’t even think about that.”
Parrot’s campaign, which has launched a website aiming to rebut Trone’s attacks — TheTruthAboutTroneAndParrot.com — says the ad is misleading because Parrott’s letter didn’t specifically mention children with HIV and that the recommended placing the tattoo in an inconspicuous place, “perhaps in a spot covered by a bathing suit.”
Parrott told WTOP he wrote the letter at a time when HIV was a death sentence and there weren’t lifesaving treatments available.
“Now, the drugs — if you have if you have HIV — it doesn’t go into full-blown AIDS, thankfully. But at the time I wrote that, it did. People were dying. It was a death sentence.”
Antiretroviral therapy used to effectively treat HIV was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1995 and became widely available in 1996, according to the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration.
Parrot said the HIV tattoo issue is a distraction from other issues.
“We need to be focused on this race. (Trone) wants to go back 20 years ago and try to delve something up,” Parrott said. “That’s just ridiculous.”
Trone, who lost a nephew to a fentanyl overdose, has made fighting the opioid crisis one of his top priorities, helping form the Bipartisan Addiction and Mental Health Task Force and being named to co-chair the National Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking.
Still, overdose deaths have continued to climb, reaching 108,000 in 2021. Fentanyl is now one of the leading causes of death for Americans 18 to 45, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parrott says not enough is being done at the southern border to stop the flow of drugs.
“We need to secure the border. He talks about fentanyl and opioids, and he wants to try and help people and yet at the same time, he won’t lift a finger to secure the border. Tons of fentanyl is coming across,” Parrott said.
Trone pointed to his work on the commission, which held nine hearings between March 2021 and February 2022 and interviewed officials in Mexico City and at the border in El Paso, Texas.
“It’s a pure Republican talking point that folks are carrying fentanyl across the border,” Trone said. “The cartels bring it over by car. And yes, we need a secure border but that’s just not focused on what we really need — and that’s demand reduction.”
The 148-page report from the commission, which was co-chaired by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, urged the U.S. to take a public health approach to getting to the roots of the addiction fueling the crisis, saying reducing demand “is paramount to stemming the flow of these drugs.”
The Washington Post has listed Parrott as being one of the many GOP nominees on the ballot this fall who have “denied or questioned the outcome of the last presidential election.”
Parrott has said he has questions about the vote-counting in Pennsylvania and Arizona in the 2020 election, and that he would not have voted to certify the Electoral College results from those two states.
“it’s not election denying, it’s just a matter of — there’s a process,” Parrott said. “We need to make sure the votes are counted properly.”
As The Associated Press has reported, multiple reviews in battleground states, dozens of court cases and even then President Donald Trump’s own Department of Justice have found there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“Again, let’s not dredge up things from the past,” Parrott said; “it’s time to move forward; it’s time to get our country in the right direction; it’s time to quit spending money that we don’t have, bring inflation back down, let people be able to afford their energy bills this winter.”
He added, “When we change D.C., when the Republicans take over the House, we’re going to bring responsibility back; we’re going to balance the budget; we’re going to have energy independence, and we’re going to bring back down the cost of living.
For his part, Trone’s closing message to voters is to look at his record. “They’re looking for someone that can get stuff done, work across the aisle in a bipartisan way, and not be an extremist. I mean, they’re just fed up and tired of extremism. And they want the country to come together and work together.”
WTOP’s Kate Ryan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.