The Long Shot

Maryland Congressman John Delaney has spent much of his life taking risks that paid off. Now the Potomac resident is taking his biggest risk—he's running for president.

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Photo by Skip Brown

In the mid-'90s, as his company, HealthCare Financial Partners, was poised to go public, John Delaney was in his Friendship Heights office on the fourth floor of 2 Wisconsin Circle, his loafers off as he made calls. He suddenly heard raised voices coming from down the hall. Someone had brazenly strolled into the unguarded office, grabbed a laptop and bolted as employees watched, paralyzed by the boldness of the theft.

Delaney scrambled out of his office in his socks, burst through the stairwell door and raced down three flights into the Metro station, looking for the thief. “He didn’t catch the guy,” recalls former business partner Edward Nordberg Jr. “Maybe it was better for the thief that he didn’t.”

Those who know Rep. John Delaney say he’s not a stand-around kind of guy. He interceded in brawls during college, abruptly altered his law school class schedule to match the one of a woman he liked, and once leaped into the swift current of an Idaho river to move a fallen tree while he was tubing. He built a business empire through three successive startups, which made him a favored son of venture capitalists and pushed his estimated net worth to $233 million. That success helped propel him into Congress, defeating his party’s anointed candidate and bucking the Democratic establishment along the way. Last July, Delaney announced that he’s running for president, more than three years before the votes are cast. A potential run for governor of Maryland seemed too timid a response to the “shock” of Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.

“After Hillary Clinton lost, I viewed it as one of those moments when you have to think differently about everything,” he says. He started to wonder: What if?

Delaney’s friend David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media, ascribes the congressman’s successes to his “velocity”— his sheer drive and ability to execute. “We used to take bets on how quickly John would respond to BlackBerry emails,” Bradley says. “Five of us sent messages at the same time to trick him; he got back to all of us within 30 seconds.” Delaney has a “striving gene,” Bradley says.

Delaney’s decision to seek housing on Pennsylvania Avenue, rather than Annapolis, surprised pundits as well as the public, but not those who know him best. “John is not someone who is serendipitous in his decision-making,” says longtime friend and business partner Jason Fish.

Bradley recalls a ski outing in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Delaney has a home, and the moment they approached a precipice along a difficult run. “The only expert skier among us said, ‘This is hard, but I think I can do it.’ I said I didn’t even want to try,” Bradley says with a smile. “John just plunged over the edge.”

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