District 8 Congressional Race: Controversial Davis Loses to Steers

Long-time lawyer/lobbyist—and one-time White House special counsel—Lanny Davis, 70, remains a controversial figure within the Washington establishment. It’s been 40 years since Davis tried to launch a political career in Montgomery County. After stints as a campaign operative, Davis, then 28, moved to Silver Spring in 1973 and ran for the 1974 Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional District. Criticized as a carpetbagger by fellow Democrats, he lost the primary to then-County Councilmember (and later County Executive) Sidney Kramer—who was defeated by popular Republican Rep. Gilbert Gude in the general election.

Gude retired two years later and Davis ran again, joining nine other candidates. This time, Davis won the primary. The two runners-up, political operative Frank Mankiewicz and former County Council member Ida Mae Garrott, declined to unite behind Davis over concerns about his financing and support from area builders.

Davis faced a tight battle with the Republican nominee, state Sen. Newton Steers, until controversy erupted over Davis’ claim that he graduated from Yale Law School in 1970 cum laude—the law school had actually stopped awarding such a designation in 1969. Years later, Davis acknowledged “honest mistakes,” saying he never deliberately misled anyone. Though a rather tame misstep compared to today’s campaign imbroglios, it played into the image of the brash Davis as willing to stop at nothing to get ahead. In November 1976, Davis lost to Steers, a low-key, professorial figure who served one term before being ousted by Democrat Michael Barnes.

Photo: A victorious Newton Steers pictured in the Montgomery Sentinel next to Lanny Davis. Via the Montgomery County Historical Society