WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Van Hollen has rebounded from one of the most expensive congressional campaigns in recent memory, raising more than $330,000 since January.
According to his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, the Montgomery County Democrat had more than $112,000 in cash on hand as of June 30.
With an early lead in fund raising for the next election cycle, a Democratic Party official said Van Hollen will present a big challenge to any Republican seeking to oust him from 8th District seat in 2004.
“They’re going to have a tough time beating Chris Van Hollen,” said Josh White, the executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Van Hollen spent more than $2.9 million last year in the race to defeat Republican Rep. Connie Morella, a popular 16-year veteran of the House, who also spent almost $2.9 million in the race.
But Morella had no opponent in the primary. Van Hollen’s spending was spread over the general election and a bruising Democratic primary race against Mark Shriver, who spent $2.7 million, and Ira Shapiro, who spent more than $886,000.
At the end of his campaign, Van Hollen had less than $4,000 in the bank and listed almost $175,000 in debts. But a wave of contributions from new supporters has helped put the freshman back in the black.
White attributed Van Hollen’s success to his grass-roots support. His constituents “really believe in his campaign,” White said.
“People on the ground just love working for the guy,” he said. “He demonstrated as a challenger that he knows how to rally support.”
Van Hollen has also received strong support from traditionally Democratic labor unions, as well as law firm and corporate PACs.
The National Association of Realtors, which gave Morella $10,000 during her re-election campaign, has contributed $12,000 to Van Hollen since January.
Nearly a third of the individual contributions from new donors to Van Hollen in 2003 came from attorneys and Realtors, both in and out of his congressional district, totaling more than $20,000.
Van Hollen’s Republican critics viewed his political performance this year as substandard and criticized his fund raising, saying it shows he has “aligned himself with special-interest groups.”
“Instead of being an asset to his district, he’s been a hindrance,” said Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Eric Sutton.
Aides to Van Hollen said that only the congressman could comment on campaign issues, but that he is out of town and would not be available for comment.