WASHINGTON – Rep. Wayne Gilchrest may be running what one political science professor calls “a Chevrolet of a congressional campaign,” but he is rolling in a Cadillac this weekend for his annual bull roast fund raiser.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, will fly in from North Carolina to headline the Saturday afternoon event at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park. The former GOP presidential hopeful is proving a big draw, said aides to Gilchrest, R- Kennedyville.
“We expect to have around 1,000 people, about twice the size of last year’s when (Utah Republican Sen.) Orrin Hatch came,” said Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest’s chief of staff.
Caligiuri said the event normally draws from 500 to 600 people. The last time it drew a crowd approaching this year’s was in 1996, when the headliner was former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who was the GOP nominee for president.
McCain raised a reported half-million dollars for Rep. Bob Franks, R-N.J., at a fund raiser earlier this year, and his presence at a July fund raiser for Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda, brought the campaign about $160,000, said officials with her campaign.
While the Morella event drew only about 300 people, they paid from $50 to $1,000 to see McCain, said Morella campaign manager P.J. Hogan. Gilchrest is only charging $25 a ticket, meaning McCain’s visit will not be as profitable for the 1st District congressman as it has been for some other campaigns this year.
But Todd Harris, a spokesman for McCain, said that the senator’s real worth could not be measured in greenbacks.
“The most valuable thing that we can offer a campaign is an event with McCain, not just signing a check,” said Harris. “We have been able to garner a lot of attention and excitement for local politics.”
Salisbury State University political scientist Harry Basehart said he has already seen that excitement in his students.
“Where usually no one would raise their hand (to go to a political event), four or five students did so right away,” said Basehart of McCain’s appearance. “I haven’t seen that kind of interest for quite a while among students.”
Carol Arscott, of Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc., agrees. She said that fund raisers ranging from “small dollar” to “big dollar” events litter the campaign season, but having someone with McCain’s prominence brings additional enthusiasm and money.
But Arscott also said Gilchrest does not need as much money as other candidates who McCain has helped raise campaign funds.
“The costs of running a campaign in the 1st district are much lower than running elsewhere,” said Arscott, noting that candidates in largely urban districts need the most money because advertising prices are higher in those areas.
So while Morella’s campaign had raised $692,052 by June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Gilchrest had raised just $105,785. His opponent, Delegate K. Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester, reported raising $52,486.
And Bozman is not expecting to get any fund-raising help from big names like McCain.
“It has been very difficult raising money,” said Bozman, who considered Gilchrest “lucky” for being able to snag McCain.
The Democratic challenger said that he had not asked anyone of national prominence to attend his events, but he did not see that as a disadvantage.
“People are tired of people telling them who to vote for,” he said. “They are not necessarily enthused about who the candidate brings with them. They just want to see the candidate.”