WASHINGTON – Political pundits, party officials and the six Republicans running in the 4th Congressional District all agree on one thing: The crowded primary is anybody’s to win.
With a big field of candidates, a reconfigured district and a low-profile election in a race that typically draws few Republicans anyway, even the candidates concede that a few votes can determine the nominee.
“I can’t tell,” said Stephen Abrams, Montgomery County Republican Central Committee chairman. “This is virgin territory for Republicans. You can’t tell how it is going to play out.”
The players all agree on one other thing: Whoever the nominee is, he faces a huge challenge against Rep. Al Wynn, D-Largo, a six-term incumbent in a heavily Democratic district.
The Republican primary pits perennial candidate John Kimble against former Bush administration official Roscoe Moore Jr., local businessman John McKinnis, party activist Floyd Anderson Jr. and two lesser-known candidates.
Party officials and political analysts believe Moore is the strongest candidate. Besides an impressive resume, he is a black candidate in the majority-black district and he is from Montgomery County, which makes up a large chunk of the district.
Moore, 59, of Rockville, was assistant surgeon general and rear admiral for the Public Health Services Commissioned Corps, before retiring in December to run for Congress. He holds degrees in veterinary medicine and epidemiology.
“Definitely, Moore will bring with him some black votes,” said Dale Anderson, a member of the Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee. But he said Moore will still face problems against Wynn because “the bulk of these African Americans in the district are Democrats.”
Party officials are hoping Moore can tap the resentment of Montgomery County voters like himself, who were loyal to former 8th District Rep. Connie Morella until redistricting put their upper Montgomery County homes in the 4th District.
“After gerrymandering, I was no longer in sync with my representative,” Moore said.
But party officials worry that low voter turnout in the primary could propel a more-recognized candidate like Kimble, with a relatively small number of votes.
“That’s the problem,” Dale Anderson said. “Republicans do not vote in the primaries unless there is something like a presidential primary going on.”
And getting Republicans to the polls is no guarantee they will vote for a congressional candidate: Election records show that about 30,000 Republicans in the district voted in the 2002 primary, but only one-third of them cast a congressional ballot.
Abrams attributes that to the fact that “last time, I don’t think there was anyone viewed as a credible candidate.” Only Kimble and Floyd Anderson ran in 2002.
Kimble enters this race with high name recognition: He has won every primary since 1996.
“I hope not to lose, but I shouldn’t lose because I’ve got the name recognition,” said Kimble.
But party officials and political analysts say Kimble — who sued to block Tuesday’s election, claiming the 4th District was “racially gerrymandered” — is not a serious candidate, despite his four previous nominations.
“His problem is not the racially gerrymandered district,” said James Gimpel, a University of Maryland government professor. “His problem is that he is not a credible candidate.”
Name recognition could also help Floyd Anderson, party officials said. Anderson, who is black, just barely lost to Kimble in the 2002 primary, and received 33 write-in votes in the general election.
But party officials note that voters will have a bigger — and they think, better — field to pick from this year. While they think Moore is the strongest candidate, they have not ruled out McKinnis.
“I was particularly interested in the fact that McKinnis has gotten some endorsements that are unusual for a Republican,” Dale Anderson said, referring to the Montgomery County Public School Retirees Association. It did not actually endorse McKinnis, but recommended him in the Republican primary.
McKinnis said his campaign is “mobilizing the region” through a grass-roots effort.
“Not only are we strong on the issues, but we’re communicating effectively with the grass roots,” he said.
Moore said his campaign is going “swimmingly” so far.
He had raised about $61,000 at the end of January, according to Federal Election Commission records. Even though $50,000 of it was his own, that is far beyond his competitors’ finances: FEC records show McKinnis has only raised about $5,500 and none of the other candidates has even filed.
But the FEC also reports that Wynn has almost $400,000. Gimpel said it is not unusual for a new candidate to lack money before the primary — but added that the GOP nominee will face “an uphill battle” against Wynn.
“It’s like David fighting Goliath,” said GOP candidate Patrick Schaeffer, a former intelligence officer turned security consultant who lost a 1998 bid for state delegate.
Floyd Anderson added that many Democrats in the district “won’t even listen to a Republican candidate.”
“It is a hard road to hoe,” he said. “I wish the people would just listen to the issues out there and not have to walk lock-step with their party.”
Gimpel said Wynn could be challenged “if the opponent were black, because it is a majority-black district, and it would help if the opponent raised a lot of money.” Not only is Moore black, but Gimpel said he has the potential to raise a lot of money after the primary.
“He’s very well known in the Washington policy community, having served in the Department of Health and Human Services in a fairly high-level position,” he said. “So that means that he has ties to the White House and potential fund-raising levels.”
William Bernetich, who could not be reached for comment, rounds out the GOP field.
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