By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – Candidates in the hotly contested 8th District had almost $2.6 million by Dec. 31 for this fall’s campaign, more than half of the $4.9 million raised for all congressional races in the state.
Delegate Mark Shriver, D-Montgomery, led the pack with more than $1.2 million in his bid to unseat Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, in the 8th District, according to reports to Federal Election Commission that were due Thursday.
Morella had $574,524 as of Dec. 31, according to the FEC. Her campaign could not be reached for comment Friday. Democrats have targeted the eight-term Republican, recently redrawing the boundaries of her district to make it more heavily Democratic.
Other Democrats in the 8th District race who filed finance reports were state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., who reported $560,574 on hand at the end of last year, and Ira Shapiro, who reported $225,233.
Shriver said he intends to raise $3 million to wrest the district from Morella, who took office in 1986.
“We’re the only campaign that has a chance to defeat an incumbent who has been there for 16 years,” Shriver said.
But the others in what is expected to be a tough Democratic primary said it will take a whole lot more than money to win.
“I never doubted that Mark would raise a great deal of money through the powerful family fund-raising network,” said Shapiro. “But this race won’t turn on who raises the most money, but rather on who best connects with the concerns of the district’s voters.”
Shriver denied that family connections — he is the nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. — were fueling his fund raising.
“People don’t give money based on your middle or last name. People invest if you have a good vision for the future,” he said.
Keith Haller, president of the polling firm Potomac Inc., said Shriver’s family connections haven’t hurt but added that his “Herculean total,” was also a sign of a “very well-organized campaign.”
He said any Democratic challenger will need money to take on Morella.
“You shouldn’t ignore the strength of the incumbent,” Haller said. “Morella doesn’t have to spend millions of dollars to develop name recognition. She has several millions of dollars in terms of awareness among the voting public.”
Van Hollen boasted that he has raise more money from Montgomery County voters than Morella, Shriver or Shapiro. Van Hollen said more than 93 percent of his contributors live in the Washington area.
“The great majority of people contributing to my campaign are people who are going to vote on Election Day,” he said. “That’s the sign of strength in the community.”
The challengers all agreed that the proposed congressional redistricting threatens Morella’s hold on the seat: She was re-elected two years ago with 52 percent of the votes.
“Maryland is a Democratic state and this district reflects that,” Shriver said.
Shapiro added that the new map — which splits Morella’s Montgomery County base — is likely to help any Democrat who wins the primary.
Haller predicted that the 8th District race will be among the top three or four most-watched congressional races in the country. He said the Democratic challengers should benefit from the widespread attention the race is receiving nationally.
The 8th District was the only one in Maryland where challengers’ fund- raising reports were on file with the FEC Thursday. The incumbents reported bankrolls ranging from the $97,728 of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, to the $583,855 raised by Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
In other races, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, had $489,737 in the bank; Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium, had $425,067; Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, reported $396,591; Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, had $184,775; and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, had $181,537.