PHILADELPHIA – Republican Senate candidate Paul Rappaport is in town, like many others this week, stumping for money and support among the party faithful for his upcoming election.
But with the election a short three months away, Rappaport admits he’s off to a slow start in his race against incumbent Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore.
“We still have a lot of events to do,” Rappaport said this week. “We’ve done a lot of work already but we’re really just getting started.”
Rappaport, 60, said he is working with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in an effort to raise awareness for his campaign. He would not say how many fund raisers he has scheduled during the convention week or how much he has raised, but he said he appeared at McConnell-sponsored events on Tuesday and Wednesday with California Senate candidate Tom Campbell.
“I’m running a grassroots organization,” Rappaport said, adding that 100 people attended the Tuesday event. “Money alone will not beat Paul Sarbanes.”
Rappaport’s low-key campaigning is a contrast to the high-profile events that have been organized around Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, who is considered the front-runner for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 2002. While Ehrlich has not formally declared his candidacy for any position beyond his current House seat, Comcast threw a dinner in his honor Wednesday the dinner was expected to bring in several thousand dollars and attract 300 people.
Whatever Rappaport pulls in this week, he will face an uphill fight against the well-financed Sarbanes. As of June 30, Sarbanes had almost $1.3 million on hand while Rappaport had $8,155, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.
Carol Arscott, a Republican pollster, said that because Rappaport is running in largely Democratic Maryland, he faces another disadvantage with the national party. With the GOP working to maintain its slim majority in the Senate, she said, attention is been giving to candidates from the most competitive states.
“The political reality for a Republican running in Maryland is simple,” Arscott said. “This race is not going to be considered a priority by the Republican National Committee.”
Still Rappaport remains confident and says he came to the convention to shore up his already strong support from the party.
“I’m here to support Gov. Bush, to make contacts and to raise money, but not necessarily in that order,” Rappaport said. “I don’t know if you call it fun, but you meet lots of nice people.”
A former Howard County police chief, Rappaport survived a primary election challenge from seven contenders. This is his third statewide election, after running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 1994 with gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey, and then for attorney general four years later.
He said that many voters aren’t even aware of his candidacy this year or that Sarbanes is even up for re-election. But he is confident that Marylanders are ready for a change from the four-term senator, whom Rappaport refers to as part of the “radical do-nothing left.”
“Sarbanes may have name recognition, but it’s negative name recognition,” Rappaport said. “When I go around the state and tell people I’m running against Paul Sarbanes, 95 percent of the time the reaction is `I’ll vote for you.'”
Arscott said it is unlikely that Sarbanes will lose his seat.
“The notion that Sarbanes is vulnerable is kind of a myth,” she said. “That’s a Republican urban legend.”
Maryland Republican Party First Vice Chairman Michael Steele acknowledges that Rappaport has his work cut out for him, but is not ready to concede the race to Sarbanes.
“It’s a tough race but the party stands behind him,” Steele said. “Once the momentum comes and the money starts, he’ll do all right.”