Why So Many Democrats Are Rooting For Harry Dunn

Principles First 2024

Harry Dunn’s body was bruised and his Capitol Police uniform soaked with sweat and pepper spray when he got home on Jan. 6, 2021. He’d spent the day grappling with Donald Trump supporters charging into the Capitol to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s win, absorbing body blows and racist jeers directed at him. Outside then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, Dunn distracted a group of Proud Boys dressed in tactical vests and body armor, allowing Pelosi’s staff to escape. Months later, his gripping testimony during Jan. 6 Committee hearings made him a national figure and a regular guest on TV news shows.

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Now Dunn’s running for Congress in Maryland’s 3rd district, representing a ribbon of commuter towns running between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Senior Democratic leaders have rallied around his candidacy, seeing Dunn as a forceful national voice who can help energize voters about the threats to democracy.

But first he has to win a primary on Tuesday in which his chances are difficult to parse. When Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes announced he was retiring in November after holding the seat for 17 years, a flood of interested candidates jumped in the race. Dunn is one of 22 names on the primary ballot, which also includes local heavy-hitters like state Senators ​​Sarah K. Elfreth and Clarence Lam who, unlike Dunn, can talk up their accomplishments in public office. The top vote-getter on May 14 will win the party’s nomination without a runoff, and will likely carry the solidly blue district in November.

Even in such a crowded field, Dunn has managed to stand out. He’s been endorsed by liberal luminaries including Reps. Jim Clyburn, Adam Schiff, Bennie Thompson, and Pelosi, and is leading the field in fundraising with nearly $4 million. And on the campaign trail, the former police officer tempers his sharp condemnations of Trump with an easy-going demeanor and affable smile. “He’s already an asset,” says Clyburn, the South Carolina congressman whose endorsement was instrumental in Biden winning the Democratic presidential primary in 2020. “He can bring to the conference table or the hearing room his experiences.”

Dunn’s running on a platform to shore up women’s reproductive rights and voting rights, expand affordable health care, and ban AR-15 rifles. But mostly, Dunn says, voters want to talk to him about preventing another Jan. 6. “People are really disgusted with the way the MAGA crowd faction of the Republican Party is taking this country downhill, this is what I’ve been hearing. That gives me a lot of confidence because that’s my platform— pro-democracy, anti-Donald Trump,” Dunn says, sitting at a local diner in Ellicott City on Tuesday where he spent two hours chatting with potential voters over coffee and desserts.

House Select Committee Investigating January 6 Attack On US Capitol Holds First Hearing

Recent news reports have brought attention to a moment in Dunn’s past he’d rather forget: a four-day suspension from the Capitol Police in 2012 over not securing his firearm at home, which came to light when Montgomery County police responded to a family argument. No charges were brought in the incident. A report from the Capitol Police Office of Professional Responsibility made public by Punchbowl News includes a claim that Dunn waved a gun at his then-wife. Dunn denied that he did that. When asked about it by TIME, Dunn points to a joint statement from him and his ex-wife that his campaign released weeks earlier that says they sometimes argued when they were first married. Asked how he feels about that night now, Dunn says that he and his ex-wife have moved on. “We have a great co-parenting relationship,” he says, mentioning how they recently attended a White House holiday event with their child. “We went to the Easter Egg Roll together with our daughter.”

At the Ellicott City Diner on Tuesday, voters who came to talk to Dunn didn’t bring up those reports. Again and again, Jan. 6 is the main topic of discussion. Paul Goldenberg, 72, lives in Columbia and believes that electing Dunn to Congress will send a strong signal that their district rejects the effort to overturn the 2020 election and doesn’t want a president who is going to be a “dictator on day one” as Trump previously said he would be. “Our democracy is at stake, I really believe that, and I feel strongly that Harry will be on the side of where I want to be, and I think in some ways, it’s symbolic, because of who he is and what he did.”

Mike Marion, 69, says he switched his party registration from unaffiliated to Democrat in order to vote for Dunn in the primary. Marion is a former Capitol police officer who retired more than a decade ago and didn’t know Dunn on the force, but was impressed with what Dunn went through on Jan. 6 and how he testified to Congress about what happened that day. “He worked the insurrection, so he dealt with that,” Marion says. “Give him a shot. I think he can get it done.”

Those are the sentiments Dunn hopes will galvanize enough voters to support him—an outcome many Democratic Party leaders are counting on too. “I fought with rioters with my hands on Jan. 6 and hope to return to fight against them with a pen instead of my fist this time,” Dunn says.