Delegate Kumar Barve (D-17) intends to announce very soon that he will run for the Eighth Congressional District made vacant by Chris Van Hollen’s senatorial bid.
Though born in New York, Barve went to Paint Branch High School. Barve was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1990, so he is now in his seventh state (pun unintended) legislative term. Currently, he chairs the Environment and Transportation Committee. Barve has also served previously as Majority Leader.
While it may seem ordinary now, it was a big deal when Del. Barve was first elected in 1990, as he was the first Indian American to win election to any state legislature in the country. At the time, he was also the only nonwhite member of the Montgomery delegation.
Kumar has supported efforts of other South Asians to win election, including Del. Aruna Miller (D-15) and former Del. Sam Arora (D-19). Miller and Barve have remained close. But no one was more peeved when Arora reneged on his commitment to back marriage equality–a bill that Barve sponsored and supported strongly.
Barve has the potential to receive substantial ethnic backing from Indian Americans not just locally but nationally. Currently, Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) is the sole South Asian American in Congress. Barve provides a strong opportunity to increase their number. He would also be the first Hindu Indian American in Congress and only its second Hindu member.
The 17th Legislative District includes all of the Cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg. The bad news for Barve is that the Eighth Congressional District includes Rockville but not Gaithersburg so about one-half of his legislative district is outside the congressional district that he seeks to represent.
The good news for him is that Rockville voters participate in primaries at a much a higher rate than in Gaithersburg, so he is hemorrhaging much less support due to district boundaries than appears at first glance. Until 2014, Kumar also represented much smaller Garrett Park, which is also in the Eighth.
Nonetheless, District 17 casts fewer Democratic primary votes than in either District 18 or District 20. Assuming that either or both Sens. Rich Madaleno (D-18) or Jamie Raskin (D-20) run, they each start out already representing at least 50% more primary voters. It will take more effort–and more money–for Barve to introduce himself to new voters.
Overlap and Challenges
I don’t see real overlap between Del. Barve and other candidates. He’ll probably start out with more experience in office than any of them. But they will all essentially share rather similar principles and struggle to accentuate differences.
Kumar’s real challenges are to raise money and to run a disciplined campaign. As for all candidates, he will need to spend far more time raising money than any sane person desires. And he will have to make sure it is spent very wisely.
Another key question is whether he can attract volunteers on the same scale and organize them as well as candidates who made their first bid for office more recently, and thus may have more of their original core supporters around to help them.
It will be interesting to see how much traction Del. Barve gains in the race. But I don’t think he will get lost in the shuffle. He is outspoken and certainly as ambitious as anyone seeking this seat.
Will Del. Barve be tempted to switch to the Sixth District if Rep. Delaney jumps into the Senate race? After all, he lives in the Sixth even if his legislative district falls equally in the Eighth.