WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional incumbents have a total of $2.7 million to spend in the last month of the campaign, 21 times as much as their overmatched challengers.
The House challengers from Maryland had a total of $127,633.19 on hand as of Sept. 30, most of that split between two candidates, according to reports released Monday by the Federal Election Commission.
Only four of the eight challengers had reports on file with the FEC, however.
But challengers contacted Tuesday said they knew going in that they would be outspent by the incumbents and they downplayed the importance of the numbers.
“We knew from the beginning [Rep. Constance Morella, R- Bethesda] has a lot of money … we never thought we could match her,” said Phil Evans, campaign manager for 8th District Democratic nominee Ralph Neas. “We have raised enough to mount a effective and successful campaign.”
Neas’ campaign has raised more than any Maryland challenger, pulling in $579,525 for his campaign. He still had $104,320 in the bank as of Sept. 30, but Morella had $614,546 available for the remaining weeks before the election, according to the FEC.
In the 5th District race, Republican Bob Ostrom’s campaign had $23,042 as of Sept. 30, against the $607,284 held by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville. But the Ostrom campaign said it expects to have $100,000 for the last two weeks before the election.
“We don’t have to outspend Steny Hoyer, we would like to achieve parity in radio and TV,” said Matt Johnston, Ostrom’s campaign manager.
The enormous amount of money amassed by incumbents can scare off big-name opponents, said political observers.
“It does limit the pool of challengers,” said Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins, national president of the League of Women Voters.
“Parties don’t waste money against popular incumbents,” said John G. Murphy Jr., a law professor at Georgetown University who studies campaigns and campaign finance.
But a spokesman for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, defended the heavy fund-raising, saying the money is needed to run a serious campaign. Bartlett had over $384,000 in funds available for his campaign, while his Democratic challenger, Timothy McCown, reported having $271.
“The congressman must be doing something right, people not only vote with their ballot, but also with their wallet,” said Scott Hollenbeck, Bartlett’s campaign manager.
McCown said he has made a point of not accepting political action money for his campaign.
“The ideal situation is that [candidates for] federal offices should all have public financing,” said McCown. “To rake in millions needed for the political system, you’ve got to keep people whipping to frenzy to donate.”
Groups such as Common Cause have lobbied Congress for campaign finance reform to level what they call the stacked deck against challengers.
“One way to get resources to non-incumbents is for some semblance of a campaign finance reform,” said Celia Wexler, a lobbyist for Common Cause.
In 1996, 95 percent of House incumbents won re-election. This year, most of Maryland’s representatives are strongly favored to win re-election, according to Campaigns and Elections magazine.
Despite that, challengers do not necessarily need to match their opponents in money, said Jefferson-Jenkins.
“Our research shows that what gets people to vote is personal contact,” she said. Grassroots activities including door-to-door contact can get a candidate’s message out, she said.