WASHINGTON – He is waging a one-man campaign from his home office in Baltimore, but Republican nominee Colin F. Harby feels pretty good about his chances of unseating 3rd District Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, in their second meeting.
Harby thinks it is time for a change. He has gone from no campaigning in his 1998 race to a more active campaign this year, debating Cardin and passing out fliers to potential voters.
“I think I’m going to take it,” Harby said recently.
The Republican nominee does have one obstacle — a well-funded Democratic incumbent with more than three decades of elected office, who is known for bringing parties together to help pass legislation. In their last election, Cardin beat Harby by a margin of 77-23 percent.
“All of the incumbents look safe this year,” said Blair Lee IV, a political writer and longtime observer of state politics.
But Harby is undeterred, charging that Cardin has not done enough for the district in 14 years in Congress.
“He’s been a Rip VanWinkle in Congress,” said Harby who accused Cardin of having been asleep for years.
Harby said, for example, that Cardin hasn’t instituted any legislation that lowers taxes for people. When asked why he is running again, Harby said because there is a need for good government and his opponent only advocates for tax increases.
“We have to get in there and address ideas that are current,” said Harby.
To him, those issues include bringing more small business to the district, creating a prescription drug program for seniors who need it most and lowering fuel prices.
Harby said that some of his views are akin to those of presidential Republican nominee George W. Bush. Harby said he wants to let the people make their own decisions when it comes to health care and wants to make sure they do not live under the burden of government taxes, calling for smaller government in other words.
Harby is enthusiastic about the campaign. The Republican challenger said this year will be different than 1998, because he has moved his campaigning up a notch from two years ago.
Last time, the two did not debate. This time, they have met in a small handful of debates, including a forum on Maryland Public Television.
Harby has been avoiding forums like town hall meetings, where many of the people are political candidates themselves, and focusing instead on reaching out to voters in less-political venues. He said he usually prints some fliers and takes them to the store to hand out, for example.
Harby and Cardin both are listed by Common Cause among the candidates who said they would work for a ban on soft-money donations to campaigns. It was not a hard decision for Harby, who said he has not accepted donations from even those supporters who call offering money.
The one thing Harby has not changed this year is the amount invested in his campaign. In 1998, Harby spent only $250 and received almost 40,000 votes — nearly 24 percent of the popular vote. This year, he said he will invest only an additional $50 to $100 in his campaign, but he expects to get many more votes.
Cardin, on the other hand, has raised more and put more into his campaign than he did two years ago. The veteran House member raised more than $700,000 for his campaign and put over $360,000 into his campaign during this election cycle. As of Sept. 30, he still had more than $660,000 to use — if he needs it.
Lee said it is not unusual for a popular incumbent to put that much money into a campaign against a political lightweight. Cardin might be doing it less to defend himself against a threat from Harby, than to roll up a landslide victory to lay the groundwork for a future campaign, Lee said, such as a potential gubernatorial bid in 2002.
Cardin declined to comment on the suggestion that he may run for governor, saying he is focused on this election only and will not make any decisions on 2002 until after Election Day.
He defended his record, without responding specifically to Harby’s allegations. Cardin said that his business record is strong, citing awards he won in 1993 and again in 1999 from the Small Business Council of America, for example.
The Child Welfare League of America this year made Cardin one of only four members of Congress to receive its annual Congressional Advocate of the Year award, for his role in the Foster Care Independence Act.
Liz Meitner, the league’s director of public policy, said that when the organization approached Cardin about proposing the legislation, the Democrat was the first to recognize the importance of the bill — despite the fact that the subject was not a politically popular one.
Dan Maffei, a Democratic spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee on which Cardin sits, said the foster care bill is a good example of how Cardin can put partisanship aside for an important issue.
The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group in Washington, D.C., recently gave Cardin a 90, out of a possible 100, for his voting record in the 106th. His score for his voting record this year was even higher, a 93, which is 14 percent better than the rating on his 1997 record.
Lisa Raasch of the League of Conservation Voters calls this “positive progress.”
“We would very much like to see him (Cardin) return to Congress,” said Raasch even though the conservation group had not endorsed a candidate in the 3rd District.
Cardin said he began campaigning two years ago for this election. But he has made room in his congressional schedule and in the waning days of this campaign to stump for the Democratic Party.
When asked if he had anything he would like to say to his constituents, he replied, “Thank you for letting me serve in Congress,” and followed it with a plea to get out and vote Nov. 7.
Voters who pay attention to the 3rd District race will find that the two candidates agree on little. They do agree on the importance of voting, however, with both urging people to get out and cast their ballots.
Harby doesn’t want voters to see this race as a spitting match between two politicians, but as an opportunity to exercise their civic responsibility.
“When people go out to vote, they don’t vote for me,” Harby said. “They vote for themselves.”
At least one constituent plans to get out and vote for Harby. Andy Bauer said he did not think Cardin was necessarily doing a bad job, but that it is just time for a change.
“He (Harby) is a good Catholic man, I think he’s a good man for the job,” said Andy Bauer, an East Baltimore resident who is in the Knights of Columbus with Harby.
But even Bauer concedes that Harby’s campaign is a long shot.
Officials with the Maryland Republican Party appear to agree.
“We’re focused on getting George Bush elected to President,” said Paul Ellington, executive director of the state GOP.
Ellington would not directly say the party did not support Harby, but indicated that the party needed to focus what was available on their most promising candidates.
“We have limited resources,” Ellington said.