COLLEGE PARK – Candidates in Maryland’s 8th District have raised more than $5.7 million for their campaigns, making it the priciest House race in the country this year, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
The three top Democratic fund-raisers in the race reported just over $4 million as of June 30, led by Delegate Mark Shriver’s $2.3 million, while incumbent Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, had raised just under $1.7 million.
“That gives you some idea of the competitiveness and importance of this race,” said Allan Lichtman, an American University political scientist. “The control of the House could turn on this race.”
Shriver’s $2.3 million was the second-highest raised by any challenger for a House seat in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Only James F. Humphreys has more: The largely self-funded multimillionaire in West Virginia’s 2nd District has nearly $2.9 million, said Doug Weber, a researcher for the center.
State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen had just over $1 million, according to his June 30 filing with the Federal Election Commission. A third Democratic hopeful in the race, Ira Shapiro, reported raising $721,060.
All four candidates deny the importance of money in their campaigns.
“Going in, I think people thought (the Democratic primary) might have been a runaway for Mark Shriver,” said Lichtman, who credited Van Hollen and Shapiro with being surprisingly successful fund raisers who are running strong campaigns.
Despite that nod to Shapiro, Lichtman said the two real competitors are Van Hollen and Shriver.
The Van Hollen and Shapiro campaigns are quick to discount the power of Shriver’s purse. They note that much of Shriver’s money has come from outside the district, as the Kennedy nephew draws on the family’s financial network.
“There are many races that if you look at them over the years, the person who raises the most money doesn’t always win as long as the competitors have enough to compete,” said Sarah Rosen, Shapiro’s spokeswoman.
A Van Hollen campaign official agreed.
“We don’t need to compete (with money). We need to have enough to get our message out. I believe we’ve done that and will continue to do that,” said Dorothy Davidson, Van Hollen’s assistant campaign manager.
Lichtman said Shriver’s bankroll is helping Morella in a roundabout way, by fueling her fund raising.
While Morella’s campaign staffers say they are not worried about Shriver’s bankroll, they also use it to criticize the Democrat, saying it is his campaign’s biggest strength.
“(Voters) don’t choose somebody for how much money they have access to,” said Tony Caligiuri, Morella’s campaign manager.
But Shriver’s stance on the issues, not his bank account are fueling his campaign, said campaign spokesman Rick Abbruzzese.
“Democrats across the country are supporting him (Shriver) as someone who can beat Connie Morella,” Abbruzzese said.
While the 8th District leads the country in fund raising, so far it does not rank in the top 10 for spending, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Morella and the three Democrats had spent only about $1.6 million, or nearly 30 percent of their contributions, as of June 30. This will likely change in the weeks before the primary as television ads begin to air, Lichtman said.
While money buys exposure, it does not translate directly to votes, said James G. Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland.
“Every election cycle you find people that have loads and loads of money who don’t win,” Gimpel said.