WASHINGTON – For many underdog candidates, a hefty last- minute donation or an opponent’s unearthed scandal is the boost they long for to rejuvenate their campaign in its final days.
For state Del. John Morgan, challenger to Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville, it is daylight-saving time.
When the clocks turn back an hour this Sunday, Morgan will have that much extra daylight in which to wage his major publicity effort: early morning sign-waving at potential voters on street corners.
With only about one-ninth as much money on hand as Hoyer, Morgan said he cannot afford a major media blitz unless he gets last-minute help from the fund-raising arm of the national party. Morgan had $77,600 in the bank Sept. 30 to Hoyer’s $658,100, according to reports recently filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Morgan said he will instead rely on the grass-roots tactics that have dominated his campaign so far to spread his message.
“The volunteer effort of getting up and getting out on street corners every morning makes a very strong statement,” the two-term legislator from Laurel said. “I think that is far more powerful than TV ads bought by special interests.”
He said he also plans on running more radio ads. Two have already aired on 10 stations in the area.
Hoyer has the money for television. He has purchased a television ad that started airing Wednesday on all the local network affiliates and News Channel 8, and will run through to election day. The ad will also run on cable stations in Southern Maryland, which makes up the lower portion of the 5th District.
Hoyer campaign spokesman Cory Alexander describes the ad, which will run daily, as a “positive accomplishments piece” that highlights Hoyer’s environmental record and job growth in his district. Putting out a positive message “is in our best interest [because] Steny Hoyer has produced for the district,” which also includes parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, Alexander said.
Three of the five radio advertisements Hoyer’s campaign has bought have been similarly positive. But two have criticized Morgan.
One said Morgan supported the Republican leadership’s Contract with America, while the other said he voted in 1994 against a state measure to ban guns on school property. The five radio ads have been airing on 14 stations in Maryland and Washington.
The gun ad came in response to a radio ad Morgan ran for about three weeks starting in late September. “The brutal criminals who murdered my uncle Chris are all walking the street today … and Steny Hoyer votes like it doesn’t matter,” Morgan said, referring to the 1970 murder of his uncle in Prince George’s County.
Hoyer called the ad “exploitative.” But the fact that he launched a response shows he views Morgan as a formidable challenger, said state GOP chairman Joyce Lyons Terhes.
“Usually, when you have a seasoned incumbent, they just ignore their opponent, but Hoyer is responding to Morgan’s ads,” she said. “I think that shows it’s a competitive race.”
Still, Hoyer enjoys all the advantages of incumbency, including heavy-hitting contributors. Of the $636,554 Hoyer pulled in from contributions in the first nine months of this year, $355,250, or 56 percent, came from special-interest groups, called political action committees.
Of Morgan’s $145,040 in contributions, only $9,250, or 6 percent, came from PACs, his FEC report showed.
Morgan emphasizes this contrast in his campaigning. One excerpt of the campaign newspaper his volunteers are handing out reads, “Morgan vs. Hoyer. David vs. Goliath.”
A separate tally of their finances – for the first year and a half of their campaigns – showed Morgan’s contributions from individuals rely more heavily on Marylanders. About 86 percent of Morgan’s itemized contributions from individuals came from residents of the Free State, while only about 66 percent of Hoyer’s did. -30-