COLLEGE PARK – Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, faces a well-funded challenger from within his own party in his bid to be re-elected to Maryland’s 1st District, according to the latest campaign finance reports.
But while Republican challenger David Fischer’s campaign bank account approaches Gilchrest’s, political experts say it could mean little in this year’s race.
“You’d have to spend maybe a million dollars on negative campaign ads to dent Gilchrest’s reputation,” said Brad Coker, a managing director with Mason- Dixon Polling and Research. “He’s well liked, he’s popular — all of the polls we’ve done show that he gets strong job performance ratings from his constituents.”
None of that fazes Fischer campaign officials.
“He’s a nice guy and everybody seems to like him, but Mr. Gilchrest’s record is out of touch with the district,” said Tommy Hopper, a consultant to the Fischer campaign.
Hopper said that Fischer represents conservative values like increased gun rights and lower taxes, which he said are not always seen in Gilchrest’s voting record.
Reports filed with the Federal Election Commission showed that Gilchrest had raised $208,780 as of June 30 and still had $150,990 on hand. Fischer’s campaign had collected $164,690, with $134,839 in the bank.
But Gilchrest has already spent more than five times as much on the campaign, spending $118,602 to Fischer’s $20,750, according to the FEC.
And while both candidates possess a roughly equal amount of cash, more than two-thirds of Fischer’s money comes from the candidate, who has loaned his campaign $113,100.
Gilchrest campaign manager Tony Caligiuri said loans are proof that Fischer has little broad-based district backing.
“Even when you write yourself a $100,000 check, you still get to cast only one vote,” he said.
Hopper said the loans were meant to get Fischer’s campaign underway, and that since the last filing deadline, his candidate has raised tens of thousands of dollars more.
Fischer’s limited spending leads Caligiuri to believe that Fischer is saving his resources for a last-minute attack campaign before the Sept. 10 primary.
“(Fischer) doesn’t have any grass-roots organization or a history with the district, so his best approach, looking from a tactical perspective, is to buy as much media time in the end,” Caligiuri said.
Nonsense, says Hopper. It is Gilchrest conducting negative attacks.
“We’re going to talk about the issues, and that’s what Mr. Gilchrest fears the most,” Hopper said.
Conway Gregory, a political science professor at Chesapeake College, said attack ads don’t resonate well along the Eastern Shore, which makes up the bulk of the 1st District, along with parts of Anne Arundel, Harford and Baltimore counties.
“If Dave Fischer hopes to win, he needs to focus on differences, but not in a negative way,” Gregory said.
“He needs to run a campaign that says, `I’m trying to educate the voter about Wayne Gilchrest,'” Gregory said. “He’s coming across like an attack dog, and he’s hurting himself.”
A third Republican candidate, Brad McClanahan, has no FEC records on file and could not be reached for comment.
Democrat Ann Tamlyn, a Centreville small-business owner, and unaffiliated candidate Jeffrey Scott Sisitsky, an Easton bookstore owner, are also running for the seat. Both said they have not accepted contributions, which exempts their campaigns from FEC oversight.
“If you take money from someone, you can’t represent the people because you’re owned by someone,” Sisitsky said. “It doesn’t matter if you take $50, $100 or $1,000.”