WASHINGTON – Political analysts are greeting Maryland’s congressional elections this fall with a collective yawn.
Despite the scandal swirling around President Clinton, despite the fact that every open congressional seat in Maryland will be contested in November, the analysts predict a boring election season.
Incumbents are likely to ride a wave of public contentment, long track records and name recognition to easy re-election, they say.
“To a political junkie, the state of politics in Maryland is disappointing. It’s a one-sided affair that is often uninteresting,” said Paul S. Herrnson, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland College Park.
The challengers see otherwise.
“Whatever the feeling about the incumbents, we have to take them on a singular basis,” said Bob Ostrom, the Republican who is hoping to unseat 5th District Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville.
“What wins elections for a challenger is that they are a positive alternative for a district that wants change and I fit that category,” said Ostrom, who says Hoyer’s Southern Maryland constituents are dissatisfied.
But political observers say the public is largely satisfied with the status quo.
“Maryland, for better or worse, has eight strong congressional representatives who tend to represent their constituencies well,” said Herrnson.
All eight House seats from Maryland are up for election this fall, as is Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s, D-Baltimore.
“Two basic reasons [for the strength of the incumbents] is that [voters] are satisfied with the way the state is going,” said Eric Uslaner, also a University of Maryland government and politics professor.
“They aren’t inclined to throw the rascals out cause they don’t think they’re rascals,” said Uslaner.
Del Ali, senior vice president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research, said incumbents are enjoying the benefits of a good economy and that the president’s political troubles should not have much effect on the election.
“As far as the congressional races in Maryland, they’re a bust. The incumbents are going to sweep,” Ali said.
“Separate what’s going on with Clinton and you see the incumbents doing very well. The only races where Clinton may be a factor are those were turnout is low but I think that will be marginal,” said Ali.
Incumbents are further helped by their ability to raise more money than their challengers.
According to Federal Election Commission reports filed by Sept. 1, for example, Ostrom had raised $97,723 this year compared to Hoyer’s $344,178.
In Western Maryland’s 6th District race, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, had raised a relatively modest $66,939. But his opponent, Democrat Timothy McCown, has only reported campaign income of $2,231 this year.
McCown acknowledges that fund raising is tough for challengers, which is why his grass-roots campaign is focusing its efforts elsewhere.
“My campaign has been based on a series of small campaigns within the district. Most of my campaigning has been on talk radio shows and letters to the editor,” McCown said.
“Incumbents are only solid when they play the money game. Challengers can’t play the same game because they don’t have the same money,” said McCown. “So we have to focus on the issues and come up with creative ways to get our message out there.”
McCown said a challenger “who is trying to raise $750,000 as an unknown might as well jump off the Woodrow Wilson bridge.”
But at least one challenger is in the same fund-raising league as the incumbents, according to the FEC filings. Democrat Ralph Neas has raised $291,459 so far this year for his bid to unseat 8th District Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, who reported campaign income of $367,842.
“Ralph Neas is the only one who has any real name recognition but he won’t take Morella. It’s very difficult to get significant opposition when people are happy with the way things are,” said Ali.
He said that one problem with the challengers is that there “aren’t any heavyweights, any 900-pound gorillas who can stand up to those guys.”
But the incumbents claim to be taking the challengers seriously.
An aide to 2nd District Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Lutherville, said the congressman does not expect to have much of a contest in the election but that victory should not be taken for granted.
“In some ways we expect a fairly predictable, cookie-cutter race, but we also expect a high-level race,” said Steve Kreseski, chief of staff for Ehrlich. “There were some upsets in some of the other races in the past election and there are some hotly contested ones yet to play out, so you can’t take anything for granted.”
A spokesman said Hoyer “takes every race seriously and assumes nothing.”
“He’s going to go out and talk to the people and work hard for the people of the 5th district,” said Chris McCannell, the spokesman.
But Herrnson said the incumbents probably have nothing to worry about.
“If it sounds like I’ve painted a one-sided portrait of politics in Maryland,” he said, “that’s because it is.”