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Ever since Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell declared in December that he would run against U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in the 2012 election, both men have been considered the only viable options to represent Southern Maryland in Congress.

But Jeremy Stinson of Upper Marlboro and Arvin Vohra of Bethesda are hoping to make the race for the 5th Congressional District a four-man contest.

A military veteran and small business owner, Stinson, 34, is running as an unaffiliated candidate in an effort to both maintain his independence and make clear his dissatisfaction with the two major political parties.

“I am an independent. I don’t fit neatly into a blue or red box, or at least my values don’t. But with the way the current Congress is bitterly divided, I don’t want to align myself with the kind of vitriol the two sides are currently spewing,” Stinson said. “I prefer to remain independent and independents are usually more pragmatic and I am a pragmatic leader. I like commonsense solutions to issues, and I think what the United States is seeing is the electorate going back, settling into a more moderate vein.”

Stinson spent more than eight years in the U.S. Navy, beginning in 1997. He served on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and also was assigned to a special unit within the U.S. Department of State that installed security systems at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.

He left the military in 2005, having attained the rank of petty officer first class, and spent about 18 months working in the private sector managing Department of Defense security projects.

Stinson then worked as a security expert for both the U.S. Marshals Service, where he designed security systems for the federal judiciary, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

In 2008 he opened his own consulting firm, The Stinson Group LLC, which helps small- to medium-sized businesses become more efficient and boost their bottom lines.

The father of two children — a boy, 10, and girl, 8 — Stinson has never held political office. He first considered running for Congress about four years ago, but decided to wait until his family was more willing.

Stinson described his politics as “very fiscally conservative [and] moderately socially liberal.” The primary issues he would look to address in Congress are education, tax reform and job growth.

“Everything stems from education, be it the economy, social issues, national or international issues. I think as a nation we’re failing our kids. Maryland is ranked number one in the nation for education systems, but when you look at how we attained that, it wasn’t attained by the counties that fall within District 5,” Stinson said, adding that the “disparity between [education in] Montgomery County and Prince George’s County is vast, and we need to improve that.”

Recently elected to the Libertarian National Committee, Vohra, 33, will represent the party on the 2012 ballot.

Vohra provides supplemental education at his own learning center in Friendship Heights to students “who need extra help because they are not learning at their home school.” He also tutors students one-on-one and has written a couple of books on education.

A strict fiscal conservative for whom “civil liberties are extremely important,” Vohra said he became much more politically active after the Wall Street bailout in the fall of 2008, and remained so due to frustration over how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been handled.

He called the war on drugs “a fiscal disaster” and would eschew tax reform in favor of “spending reform,” believing that lowering taxes does nothing to keep government from making up the difference with increased borrowing.

“There’s a very growing and very disenfranchised liberty movement that has people looking to represent what they actually think,” Vohra said. “A lot of people don’t vote because they’re either dissatisfied with the options or don’t see the point.”

Vohra decided to pursue political office because his “vision of what should be happening is substantially different from what is happening,” he said.

He ran as a Libertarian for the state House of Delegates in 2010 against three Democrats and three Republicans in a three-seat Montgomery County district, but finished last among the seven candidates with only 1.7 percent of the vote.

He chose to run for Congress this year because many of the issues he feels strongly about — like the war on drugs, civil liberties and taxation — are more prominent on the federal level.

Vohra believes overregulation of public and private education has hampered innovation. For instance, private schools in Maryland must be in session for 170 days, which prohibits a system where a student could complete his work and start summer vacation early, “a powerful incentive,” he said.

State law also requires that teachers have a bachelor’s degree, “so hiring Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg to teach computer science would be illegal,” an extreme example that illustrates how regulation “so specifically and narrowly defines what a school has to look like,” Vohra said.

Both Stinson and Vohra say they have found support while campaigning throughout the district. Stinson said that most of the voters he has talked to have stories of how Hoyer helped their communities during his early years in Congress, but struggle to come up with more recent examples.

“They agree it’s time for him to move on,” Stinson said. “Hoyer hasn’t done much for District 5 since he’s been in Democratic leadership. He’s pretty much carried the water for the Democratic Party.”

Vohra has spoken to a number of registered Democrats who are more fiscally conservative but identify with their party primarily because of social issues. Once they learn about the Libertarian Party, their interest is instant, he said, adding that most of the people working on his campaign were not Libertarians beforehand, but since have “become very passionate.”

Regardless of the positive feedback both have received, to call Stinson and Vohra electoral long shots would be an understatement. In the 2010 election, Libertarian Gavin Shickle, the only third-party candidate to run in the 5th District, received only 1 percent of the vote.

“Don’t know much about them and don’t think they’d even be an entity in the election,” St. Mary’s College of Maryland political science professor Todd Eberly said of Stinson and Vohra. “Not gonna happen.”

Both candidates recognize their severe disadvantage in name recognition and campaign financing when compared to Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) and O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), established politicians well known throughout the 5th District.

“This is a grassroots campaign in the purest sense of the term. I’m a relative unknown,” Stinson said. “The strategy is to saturate the entire district. Anywhere where anyone will listen, we will be out there campaigning, working social media, holding meet and greets at supporters’ homes, until Steny Hoyer knows he has a viable candidate hot on his heels.”

Stinson also pointed out that, of the $2.6 million Hoyer has raised since the beginning of 2011, “most of it didn’t come from District 5, which I have a problem with and voters should have a problem with.”

Raised in Greenbelt, Vohra is under no illusions regarding his electoral prospects.

“Steny Hoyer has been in office since I was around 12 years old, so I know he’s a fixture over there,” he said, adding that he hopes to “make a dent” in this election and improve steadily in future contests.

“It’s going to be a question of targeted fundraising and using media tools that we have wisely. It’s unlikely that we’re going to have more money and name recognition than Steny Hoyer,” Vohra said. “The technique for us is to really be very clear with our message. In a realistic sense, this is what I expect to be a multiyear campaign. You can’t view elections as one election at a time. You’ve got to take sort of a long-term approach.”

jnewman@somdnews.com