WASHINGTON – New York Sen. Hillary Clinton’s endorsement Wednesday of Chris Van Hollen would normally have little impact outside political circles.
But this is not a normal year in Maryland’s 8th District race for Congress, where a “statistical dead heat” has put everything — including the most routine endorsements — under a magnifying glass.
And endorsements like Clinton’s that bring money or headlines for a campaign become even more important.
“It’s impossible to say what wins and loses for you,” in a tight race like the 8th District, said American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman said. “Everything matters.”
A poll conducted Sept. 25-27 by Potomac Inc. showed Van Hollen, a Democrat, leading Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, by a margin of 46 percent to 43 percent, with a 5 percent margin of error, a statistical toss-up.
“This is one of those campaigns where everything has the potential to make the difference,” said Tony Caligiuri, Morella’s campaign manager.
That is why the Van Hollen campaign is trumpeting the fact that the National Organization for Women endorsed him Tuesday, the first time in 16 years the group has backed an opponent of Morella’s.
Lichtman said he usually downplays endorsements, but not this one.
“This is a district for which women’s issues is very important . . . Connie has kind of established this very special niche (as an advocate of women’s issues) and that does something to undermine it,” he said.
But Morella still has the endorsements of businesswomen’s organizations and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, as well as that of the Sierra Club.
“These groups which are traditionally associated with Democrats are still endorsing Connie,” Caligiuri said. “It validates her argument that she has bipartisan appeal.”
Still, Lichtman said, the endorsements that really count are those that “cut against the grain,” or pour money and volunteers into the campaign — all of which the NOW endorsement has done for Van Hollen.
NOW did not say how much it will donate to Van Hollen, but President Kim Gandy said the group will mobilize its Montgomery County members on his behalf. Van Hollen campaign officials said previous endorsements, like that of the AFL- CIO, have already brought them the support of several hundred volunteers.
And Clinton’s appearance Wednesday evening was expected to bring a much- needed cash infusion to the Van Hollen campaign, with officials predicting it would bring in “several hundred thousand dollars.” If so, it could double the funds that campaign officials said they now have on hand, after a bruising and expensive Democratic primary.
Morella knows the value of personal endorsements in a high-profile election: She raised about $300,000 at a campaign appearance by President Bush this summer.
Caligiuri said the campaign has nearly $2 million in the bank. He also said it has plenty of endorsements and plenty of volunteers, most of whom came on board before their groups announced who they were backing.
Caligiuri said he does not think endorsements usually have an impact outside of the organization. That’s particularly true in Montgomery County, he said, where voters “don’t depend upon a group like that when a candidate is so well involved in an issue.”
Lichtman disagreed, saying that Montgomery County voters are unusually attuned to politics and give greater weight to an endorsement than most voters would.
Kensington voter Brian Cronin said his wife is not depending on her organization for leadership. Although she is active in NARAL, which supported Morella, she is backing Van Hollen this year.
“In the past, a lot of women tried to support women candidates. What NOW is doing . . . could be an impact,” said Cronin.