Earlier this month, Maryland State Del. Joe Vogel announced his intention to seek Maryland’s 6th Congressional District seat in 2024 — a move that would make him, if elected, the second member of Generation Z elected to Congress, the first Latino elected to Congress from Maryland, and the first out gay Marylander to be elected to Congress.
“We need a new generation of leaders in Washington who understand exactly what’s at stake in this moment,” the 26-year-old wrote in a Twitter post announcing his candidacy. “We just can’t wait to end gun violence, secure our rights, protect our democracy, and save our planet.”
Vogel, who was elected to Maryland’s House of Delegates last year, is seeking the seat being vacated by incumbent U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), who will be seeking the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Ben Cardin (D), who has announced he will not seek re-election next year.
The district Vogel seeks to represent stretches from the D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County westward through Frederick County and out through the state’s western panhandle to Garrett County.
It is generally Democratic-leaning, but could be potentially vulnerable in Republican-leaning “wave” years. Last cycle, when congressional Republicans largely underperformed expectations in most states, Trone ended up fending off a strong challenge from former Del. Neil Parrott by a more than 9-point margin.
Vogel does not have as much experience as a candidate seeking national office typically does, but he’s using that to his advantage, casting his young age as an asset. He sees himself as a fresh face eager to jump into the fray and fight for values important to him.
“I think I’ve demonstrated that I have the proven record to be able to deliver on important issues,” Vogel told Metro Weekly, citing his priorities.
“I got to the legislature, and, right off the bat, delivered on major legislation to address the mental health crisis, the fentanyl overdose epidemic, and the surge in hate crimes,” he says of his legislative triumphs, which were aided by the state’s Democratic majority and an amenable ally in Democratic Gov. Wes Moore. “We got big things done right away. And that’s the attitude that I’ll bring to Congress. Right now in our politics, the ability to deliver [on promises] is something I think folks are really eager and hungry for.
“The other issue here is that, when you look at the threats that we’re facing as a country and the challenges that we’re facing — whether it’s the attacks on our democracy, the reversal of fundamental rights, the climate crisis, the gun violence epidemic, the mental health crisis — these are issues that don’t give us time to wait because every day we wait, the problems get worse and worse and worse. And for four decades, Congress has failed to take action. I think we need a new generation of leaders with new ideas, with new energy, with courage to be able to deliver on these fronts. We can’t afford to wait 10 to 15 more years.”
Vogel counters voter skepticism by noting that he has delivered on promises during his short time in office.
“I also don’t accept the idea that just because you get elected, that you’re suddenly you’re suddenly going to compromise on the reasons that you got there in the first place,” he says. “For me, the reason that I’m running for Congress is to get things done. We need more people with that attitude, that mentality….
“I first got involved in politics around the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, and really it was activism and involvement in campaigns that were fighting for gun safety. For over ten years, I have watched as Congress has done almost nothing on the gun violence epidemic as we watch shooting after shooting after shooting across the country, as kids are being killed in their schools. And what are we supposed to do? Are we just supposed to sit here and wait ten more years for Congress to act? No.
“I think that’s the urgency that we bring, the great frustration we have, knowing that these are not new issues. They’re not. The status quo of our politics makes us believe that these issues can’t be resolved, can’t be addressed. So we need leaders who look at these issues and say ‘enough is enough’ and we are going to demand change. And look, by no means is me being elected going to try to change Congress as a whole. But I think it’s one important step and one more voice that we need calling for change.”
Vogel sees his identity — a gay, Latino Jew — as an asset, noting that two of the cities in the district, Gaithersburg and Germantown, were recently ranked as the nation’s top two “most diverse” cities, both culturally and socioeconomically.
“As I go around the district, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that there are many people out there who share my story, who are immigrants, who are Latino,” says Vogel, who was born in Uruguay and moved to Maryland as a toddler. “There are many people who are openly gay [in the district]. So I don’t think to necessarily change who I am, change my story, to appeal to the electorate of this district.”
When New York Republican Congressman George Santos came under fire for allegedly misrepresenting himself and fabricating parts of his biography — even claiming to have had Jewish ancestry — Vogel joked about the controversy, telling the noted Jewish magazine Forward, “Unlike George Santos, I am telling the truth.”
He has even alluded to the controversy in a pitch for campaign donations, tweeting, shortly after Santos’s indictment on campaign finance-related charges, “While George Santos being indicted is great, electing an actual gay, Jewish Latino immigrant to Congress is even better. Chip in today to send this Gen Zer to Washington.”
While George Santos being indicted is great, electing an actual gay, Jewish Latino immigrant to Congress is even better.
Chip in today to send this Gen Zer to Washington: https://t.co/i33LIilqoW
— Joe Vogel (@JoeVogel_) May 9, 2023
Some critics and online trolls have slammed Vogel for emphasizing “identity politics,” but he says that many who critique his embrace of intersecting identities often do so disingenuously.
“Since when is it a choice to have more representation, or speak about the issues affecting people?” he says. “I think that’s a false choice. The way that people talk about ‘identity politics’…is an effort to distract from the fact that for so long in our country, our groups have not had a seat at the table and have not had representation.
“There has never been an openly gay member of Congress from Maryland. There has never been a Latino member of Congress from Maryland. That holds a lot of significance, because that is our community saying, ‘We demand to have a seat at the table,'” he continues. “And the people you’re hearing talk about it in a negative way are the same people that have always had a seat at the table. I think there’s a frustration that other folks are demanding that seat at the table, demanding representation.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize that having diverse viewpoints and having different representations can open our eyes to issues that aren’t being addressed,” he adds.
Vogel exudes the confidence of an energetic, young politician, and has been traveling his district having conversations with future potential constituents.
“I’ve been going all over the district and having conversations about the issues people face and our solutions to those challenges,” he says. “That’s the approach that we’re going to take for the rest of this campaign.
“And I think the reason we’re going to win is because we’re going to show up and we’re going to outwork people and we’re going to out-hustle other campaigns, and we’re going to have a message focused on the issues that people relate to.”
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