COLLEGE PARK – Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger may have raised more than 24 times as much money as his 2nd District Republican challenger, but Jane Brooks has faith — literally and figuratively.
“People are networking and we’re sign-waving and literature-dropping. This is a grass-roots campaign,” Brooks said. “I’m winning.”
The first-time congressional candidate said more and more voters are registering as Republicans and more and more voters are hearing her campaign message of a return to family values.
“My campaign has faith, family and freedom in the future,” said Brooks, who has a son serving in Iraq. “I believe that putting God at the head of my campaign would give me the edge in making better decisions for the country.”
But political analysts don’t seem to share her faith. University of Maryland political science professor Eric Uslaner said there is little Brooks can do to improve her chances against Ruppersberger, “short of praying that he is kidnapped by Martians.”
Uslaner said Ruppersberger, a Democratic first-term incumbent, enjoys an enormous advantage, even before his fund-raising lead is factored in.
“Being an incumbent changes everything,” he said. “It means you get lots of free publicity, your name gets in the paper, you get to send newsletters to your constituents, and mail to your constituents as well.
“For challengers, money is much more important than it is for incumbents,” Uslaner said.
And Ruppersberger is winning the money race handily, according to recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. He had raised $563,869 as of June 30, to Brooks’ $23,469. He also had $220,645 in the bank, or 88 times as much as her $2,502.
“It’s the very rare candidate that can overcome this great money advantage,” said Robin Gerber, a senior fellow at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business, who has written about women’s leadership development.
There was no 2nd District incumbent when Ruppersberger in 2002: Then-Rep. Robert Ehrlich left the seat open when he ran for governor. Ruppersberger, who was Baltimore County executive at the time, won a costly race against Helen Delich Bentley, a tough Republican veteran who held the seat from 1985 to 1994.
Ruppersberger raised $1.2 million to Bentley’s $1.07 million, ultimately winning 54 percent of the vote to her 46 percent.
While Ruppersberger has more money now than he did at this point in the 2002 race, few expect him to top his campaign totals of two years ago.
“The difference is that he was running against a former incumbent” then, Gerber said. “He had to raise more money because he had a more formidable opponent.”
Uslaner said $500,000 “is not that much money” for an incumbent, but agreed that it “probably will be quite sufficient” for Ruppersberger this year.
But Brooks remains confident.
A former vice president and secretary of the 7th District Republican Club, she volunteered for Ehrlich when he was in Congress and later joined his staff as an assistant district representative. She ran unsuccessfully for the House of Delegates in 1998 and 2002 and believes that her message now, of religious and family values, is resonating with voters.
Gerber was not surprised at Brooks’ optimism.
“You can’t win if you don’t believe you’re going to win,” Gerber said. “Gosh knows we wouldn’t have a very healthy democracy if there weren’t people who didn’t run against the odds.”
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