WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Helen Bentley thinks a Republican candidate would have to “raise a lot of money and work like hell” just to compete in the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District.
She does not think a Republican can win in the district as it is drawn now. Bentley should know: She spent $1.1 million in 2002 in a failed bid against Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville.
But her experience has not dissuaded three GOP hopefuls — Jane Brooks, Dave Harvilicz and Michael Littleton — who lack Bentley’s money and name recognition.
“Mrs. Bentley only lost by about 10 percent. I don’t see a problem because I already have pretty good name recognition,” said Brooks, who has run twice for state delegate and lost both times.
Political analysts and party officials said no front-runner has emerged among the Republicans. Only Brooks has filed with the Federal Elections Commission, reporting $7,150 on hand at the end of last year — about $180,000 less than Ruppersberger, who said he will not start campaigning until after the primary.
Joe Cluster, political director for the state Republican Party, called Brooks and Harvilicz the “legitimate” candidates because they have organized campaigns.
But Michael Littleton, 45, of Pasadena, said he has been running a grass-roots campaign and “speaking with people that are going to vote.”
“There is no other person, including Dave and Jane, that have campaigned down in the streets, the mall and knocking door-to-door,” said Littleton, who is making a final push with campaign signs and fliers this week.
“I feel that I am truly the link for the middle class representation here,” he said. “I feel that I am part of the fabric of the people.”
Littleton, a supervisor at a metal manufacturing company where he has worked for 25 years, said the greatest problem in the 2nd District and elsewhere is the outsourcing of jobs.
“I feel the communities are eroding,” he said. “One of the most important issues is the outsourcing of jobs, and the loss of jobs overseas and the impact it is going to have on the infrastructure.”
But issues are not likely to make any of the three Republicans stand out. All three talk generally about the need for more high-tech jobs in the district, immigration reform and improvements to education.
With issues aside, Brooks and Harvilicz focus instead on their experiences.
Brooks, 53, of Dundalk, is a longtime party activist who is depending on support from local Republicans and endorsements from several lawmakers, including Bentley, who said Brooks “has earned her wings” after working for the party for years. Brooks’ campaign Web site claims endorsements from five state senators and 20 delegates, among others.
Besides her earlier bids for office, Brooks also worked in the Dundalk office of Gov. Robert Ehrlich for four years when he was in Congress. He has not endorsed her, however.
“I’ve been a Republican for a very long time,” Brooks said. “I have a support mechanism in place and proved myself with the party.”
Support is coming from outside the party as well: Libertarian activist Spear Lancaster, an unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2002, said he is encouraging Libertarians to support Brooks.
“Jane is an extremely hard worker,” Lancaster said. “She represents a message that a lot of people want to hear and a lot of people agree with.”
Harvilicz is fairly new to Maryland politics, and focuses instead on his rise from local working-class roots to his current position. The 30-year-old attorney from Rosedale said he is not intimidated by Brooks’ support network because he is trying to reach independent voters.
“What I’m offering is sort of a new vision, a fresh face that I think a lot of independent-minded Democrats in that district are going to be attracted to,” said Harvilicz, who grew up in Baltimore City and Harford County.
“We’re not too concerned with people whose full-time job is politics. We want the people who have normal lives, normal jobs, families,” he added.
Harvilicz said his campaign is “more sophisticated” than the others.
“I’ve got a certain level of sophistication in public policy matters so that I think it would better serve the people in the district,” he said.
But Brooks said her background helps her “relate to that many more people.” Before working for Ehrlich, she held jobs in hospitals, factories and an advertising company.
“Not everyone is a lawyer or in management for 25 years,” she said, referring to her opponents.
All three candidates said they are staying focused on the primary, but analysts said the real challenge will come when one of them has to face Ruppersberger in November.
Michael Comeau, chairman of the Harford County Democratic Central Committee, said Ruppersberger “is likable, very electable and, at this point, a very unbeatable candidate.”
“There are numerous Republican officeholders . . . in the district who could have run this year without the risk of giving up their seats,” Comeau noted. “It is significant that no one even gave it a shot. It just wasn’t worth it because they didn’t see any chance of victory.”
Barry Rascovar, a political columnist for the Gazette newspapers, sees little hope for the Republicans.
“In order for an unknown Republican to defeat a well-known Democrat in a district that has a solid majority of Democratic voters, you need a miracle,” he said. “You need a scandal, and there is nothing on the horizon at this point.”
“Of those three (candidates), it is like flipping a coin,” Rascovar said. “It’s the Republican party picking a sacrificial lamb.”
-30- CNS 02-20-04