WASHINGTON – Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger wonlast week’s five-way Democratic congressional primary for the 2ndDistrict by a comfortable margin. But some analysts said it was notcomfortable enough.
Ruppersberger won just 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote in a district where Democratic swing voters are expected to make the difference against Republican nominee Helen Delich Bentley in November.
“I think Dutch has a real problem, especially against such a highly recognized name like Bentley,” said Frank DeFilippo, a political analystfor WBAL Radio. “When they appear on stage, he’s booed and she’scheered.”
Campaign and party officials shrug off the primary results, notingthat Ruppersberger has high name recognition and more money than Bentleyin a district that is two-thirds Democratic. Ruppersberger had nearly$465,000 on hand on Aug. 21, to Bentley’s $241,000, according to campaignfinance reports.
“He’s incredibly popular and won his primary. He has twice as muchmoney than Bentley and this district has just become more Democratic,”said Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional CampaignCommittee.
Campaign spokesman Rick Binetti said Ruppersberger feels confident and positive about the primary results, and is looking forward to the general election.
But James Gimpel, a professor of government and politics at theUniversity of Maryland College Park said that Ruppersberger “has somebaggage that’s made him unpopular with Democrats.”
As county executive, Ruppersberger supported a law that would have letthe county condemn housing in the Dundalk area and develop it as awaterfront community. That law was defeated at referendum.
Ruppersberger also supported an unpopular expansion of the county jailin Towson, a project that was approved in the face of residents’protests.
Gimpel said attracting the Democratic vote is important for both campaigns, but that Bentley will likely secure enough crossover Democratsto win. She did just that while holding this district seat from 1984 to1994, he said.
“Bentley has a long history of winning over Democrats,” Gimpel said. “She’s certainly shown in the past she can win.”
Binetti said Ruppersberger was pleased with his margin of victoryTuesday: He got 50 percent of the primary vote, to 36.2 percent for OzBengur, 7.8 percent for Kenneth Bosley and just over 5 percent for twoother candidates.
But Binetti conceded that borderline voters remain a high priority for Ruppersberger.
“We’re going to go after them,” Binetti said. “He’s got his base vote,we know who’s voting for us and we’re going to go for those swings.”
Bentley campaign officials said they have also targeted swing voters,and expect to be helped by running alongside Rep. Robert Ehrlich,R-Timonium, who is leaving the 2nd District seat to run for governor.
“Those Bob voters are Helen voters,” said Michael Kosmas, managing director of Bentley’s campaign. “He and Helen are very much in the threadof a moderate Republican.”
Gimpel said middle-aged and older voters would recognize Bentley astheir former congresswoman and that Ruppersberger “might have a shot atyounger voters who have no idea who Bentley is.”
“There are many Democrats who he hasn’t grabbed and can be swayed,”Gimpel said.
Binetti said Ruppersberger has plenty of senior support, noting that”two- thirds of his message is senior-focused. . . . I think we’re prettysolid.”
But Kosmas noted that, in addition to her name recognition, Houseleaders have promised Bentley her old seat on the House AppropriationsCommittee and the seniority she accrued while in office previously.
“It’s her seniority,” Kosmas said. “Dutch would come in as a member ofthe post office committee. Her name is part of it, but it’s more thanthat.”
But she will get that seniority only if Republicans retain control ofthe House this fall. With so much at stake, DeFilippo said, funding willnot be an issue for the Bentley campaign.
“If the Republican National Committee sees it as doable, they’ll raisethe money for her,” he said. “Only six seats will switch the House withtwo of them in Maryland. Money is not a problem.”