WASHINGTON – Candidates in Maryland’s 8th District congressional race spent more than $3 million on the campaign, making it the most expensive House race in state history, political observers say.
In post-election filings with the Federal Election Commission, Democrat Terry Lierman reported spending just over $2 million in his bid to unseat seven- term Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, who spent $1.1 million to hang on to her seat.
“Generally candidates in Maryland don’t need to spend that kind of money, because an entrenched incumbent isn’t going anywhere,” said Carol Arscott, pollster for Gonzales/Arscott Research. “The race in Montgomery County, by Maryland standards, was most unusual.”
And Lierman spent a great deal of his own money on the campaign, which Arscott said “made the race more interesting.”
Lierman wound up spending $14.67 for each of his 136,840 votes, or 46 percent of the total ballots cast. Morella’s spending averaged out to $7.30 for each of the 156,241 votes she received, or 52 percent of the vote on Nov. 7.
The third candidate on the ballot in the 8th District, Constitution Party nominee Brian Saunders, reported spending just $8,003.58 on his campaign, which captured 2 percent of the vote. For his 7,017 votes, Saunders wound up spending about $1.14 a piece.
Lierman’s campaign manager said that spending had to be high to compete with an incumbent like Morella, who has a strong advantage with name recognition in the county. Getting a candidate’s name on the airwaves is what really takes money, Derek Walker said.
“To get the message out in the media market of Washington, D.C., money starts adding up,” Walker said. “The cost of TV time makes running for office an exclusive opportunity. Both Terry and I believe that’s not how it should be.”
Walker said that one of Lierman’s priorities for Congress would have been campaign finance reform and, specifically, pushing for airtime for all candidates.
Morella regrets the amount of money spent in the campaign, said aide Jonathan Dean. But he said the congresswoman had to spend a lot to keep up with her opponent, who he called a “multi-millionaire lobbyist who vastly outspent her.”
Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, agreed that it was necessary for the “well-regarded” incumbent to spend so much money to keep her seat.
“When people go after you and run an aggressive campaign, you have to,” Ellington said.
Arscott said both candidates had good reason to spend like they did: Lierman needed to build up his name recognition and Morella needed to respond to her first true challenge.
“Everybody knows who Connie Morella is. He had to spend a lot of money to get his name out there,” said Arscott. “This was probably the toughest election she had since she first ran. I think it probably gave her a good scare.”
While the 8th District race was the most expensive in state history, it did not even crack the top 10 nationally, according to officials at the Center for Responsive Politics.
They said the costliest House race ever was this year in California, where Rep. James Rogan, R-Calif., and unsuccessful challenger Adam Schiff had spent $11.1 million as of Oct. 18, with post-election filings yet to be tallied.