Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger announced Friday that he would not seek a 12th term in Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District, a suburban Baltimore constituency that favored Joe Biden 59-39 in 2020. Ruppersberger’s decision came months after Rep. John Sarbanes announced his own retirement in the 3rd District; Rep. Dave Trone, a third Democrat who serves a neighboring seat, is also running for the Senate rather than seeking reelection to the 6th District.
Ruppersberger, who is 78, has been publicly mulling retirement for the better part of a year, so his departure is not a surprise. Indeed, one prominent local Democrat, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, began raising money in June for a potential campaign, though he said he was interested only in running for an open seat. The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 9, and the primary will take place May 14.
Ruppersberger himself has long been a power player in state politics even though he never rose quite as high as he wanted. The future congressman was born Charles Albert Ruppersberger III, though he’s long gone by the nickname “Dutch.”
And it’s not just his nickname anymore. “When you market yourself, you have to make sure that you have the same name on the ballot, so I needed ‘Dutch’ on the ballot,” he told The Hill in 2009, continuing, “So what I did is I legally—I’m a lawyer—I legally added Dutch to my name. So I would go by C—period—A—period—Dutch, and all of the bumper stickers would say, ‘Go Dutch.'”
Ruppersberger unsuccessfully campaigned for the state Senate as a young local prosecutor in 1978, but he had more luck in 1985, when he won a seat on the Baltimore County Council. (Baltimore County and the neighboring city of Baltimore have been separate jurisdictions since 1851.) Ruppersberger won a promotion in 1994, when, despite that year’s GOP wave, he unseated Republican County Executive Roger Hayden 54-46.
After he was easily reelected in 1998, the Baltimore Sun described him as “[o]ne of the state’s most powerful Democrats” when it previewed his anticipated 2002 bid for governor. However, there were troubles at home for the executive. Voters rejected his neighborhood redevelopment plan by a punishing 70-30 margin at the ballot box in 2000. The paper went on to report that a real estate agent with connections to Ruppersberger’s administration had benefited from “no-bid arrangements with the county government.”
Ruppersberger wound up sitting out the 2002 contest to succeed termed-out Gov. Parris Glendening, a fellow Democrat, but he was still on the ballot that year. Maryland’s Democratic-run legislature transformed the 2nd District from a constituency that favored George W. Bush 55-41 in 2000 into one that would have backed Al Gore 57-41, and Republican Rep. Bob Ehrlich decided to run for governor rather than defend it.
Ruppersberger, who was termed out as executive, launched his bid to become the district’s first Democratic congressman in two decades, and he began as the favorite in both the primary and general elections. However, he soon learned that being the front-runner had some downsides, as he spent months on the receiving end of attacks both from his main primary foe, self-funder Oz Bengur, and former Rep. Helen Bentley, the Republican who had immediately preceded Ehrlich.
Ruppersberger held off Bengur 50-36 in their September primary, a result that political observers argued boded poorly for his prospects against Bentley just two months later. (The Sun even ran the headline, “Ruppersberger facing uphill battle.”) The new district’s Democratic lean, though, was too much for Bentley to overcome even as Ehrlich was proving to be a formidable statewide candidate. Ruppersberger prevailed 54-46 as Ehrlich became the first Republican to win election as governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966 and easily carried the revamped version of his old district.
Ruppersberger quickly became entrenched at home and never had to struggle to win reelection―even against fictional opponents. In a 2004 episode of “The Wire,” an adviser to Baltimore City Councilman Tommy Carcetti suggests that he could challenge the freshman Ruppersberger for renomination, an idea Carcetti wisely shows little interest in.
Ruppersberger, though, would take more than a decade to fully put his old dreams of becoming governor to rest. In 2013, he flirted with running to succeed termed-out Democrat Martin O’Malley (the man Carcetti was partially based on), and went so far as to reiterate his interest just weeks before the filing deadline. But just like in 2002, Ruppersberger successfully ran for the House, while another Republican, this time Larry Hogan, took the top job.
Correction: This article incorrectly said that “The Wire” episode where Tommy Carcetti was encouraged to run for Congress aired in 2003. The episode is from 2004.