Eastern Shore residents, and perhaps the rest of the nation, will miss the opportunity to hear two physicians slug it out for Maryland’s 1st District seat in Congress on the issue of national health care–because Harris has cancelled his appearance at an upcoming debate.
“The Harris campaign called us last week and said they would not be participating in any of the forums,” said Janice Bain-Kerr, president of the Mid-Shore League of Women Voters. “We are very disappointed for the voters who won’t get to hear and compare all the views of all the candidates.”
The debate scheduled for Oct. 21 at Chesapeake College will be missing Congressman Dr. Andy Harris (R-MD1), who was to square off with Democratic challenger Wendy Rosen before she bowed out of the race amid allegations of voter fraud.
But Chestertown’s Dr. John LaFerla, who narrowly lost to Rosen by 58 votes in the April primary, was appointed by state Democrats late last week to fill Rosen’s slot as a write-in candidate—and he is ready to challenge Harris on a range of issues in the public forum, said LaFerla’s campaign manager, Erik Gulbrandsen on Monday.
But the Harris campaign and other Republican insiders say there is “no longer a Democratic candidate to debate.” They see less legitimacy in LaFerla as the Democratic challenger because he is a “write-in” candidate.
“Anyone can be write-in candidate if you’re over 25 and have residency in Maryland,” said Harris’s campaign manager, Kathy Szeliga.
She said Harris’s decision to skip the forum was not meant to disrespect any write-in candidate.
“But the Democrat candidate on the November ballot is no longer in the race, and we feel we can reach voters more effectively through town hall meetings,” Szeliga said. Other sources in the Maryland Republican Party told the Spy that Harris’s overwhelming lead in the state’s last GOP stronghold “gave little incentive for Harris to endure a debate.”
It was too late to put LaFerla’s name on the ballot because of Rosen’s late departure, but LaFerla’s name will be visible at polling stations and on the walls of the voting booth, Gulbrandsen said. He said volunteers will be on hand at 200 polling places on Nov. 6 to explain the write-in process to voters, and the Maryland Democratic Party will be active in getting out the vote for LaFerla.
“The Maryland Coordinated Campaign is running a large grassroots operation to support President Obama, Senator Cardin and John LaFerla,” said Maryland Democratic Spokesman Matt Verghese. “We have more offices and more volunteers in the First District than in 2008, and have already contacted thousands of voters. There’s incredible enthusiasm on the ground and we’re going to do a big push for early voting and GOTV.”
Gulbrandsen said Dr. Harris is using the write-in status of LaFerla as a “convenient technicality” to hide from a formidable opponent on the issue national health care, which Gulbrandsen says will greatly impact the
Eastern Shore’s growing elderly population.
“Funny that Harris would pull out of the debate when going against a fellow doctor with opposing views,” Gulbrandsen said. “But Dr. LaFerla will be at the [League of Women Voters] forum to present his views and make his case for health care and a range of other critical issues.”
The Maryland Democratic Party also believes Harris is dodging LaFerla and reaffirmed the legitimacy of the new Democratic challenger.
“Dr. LaFerla is the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate in the 1st District,” Verghese said. “And he will wage an aggressive campaign to show voters the choice they face in November.”
“We’re not surprised that Andy Harris wants to run far away from his far right record in Congress,” Verghese said. “He doesn’t want to explain to Maryland families why he voted to end Medicare as we know it, cut Pell Grants for students, harm the Chesapeake Bay or undermine our economic recovery. Andy Harris can cater to special interests, but he doesn’t want an open and honest debate on the issues.”
The LaFerla campaign intends to appear at some of Harris’s town hall meetings to give voters a clear contrast between the two campaigns.
Dr. LaFerla has embraced President Obama’s health care plan, but Dr. Harris favors a plan offered by Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan, which provides a $6,000 annual voucher to seniors to replace the Medicare system. Seniors would be responsible for any health care costs after the vouchers were spent.
The average cost of a heart bypass operation in 1988 was $30,000.
Harris did not respond to several calls by the time this story ran.