WASHINGTON – Despite a lack of competitive races, Maryland’s eight House incumbents spent an average of seven times more in the 2004 campaign than their challengers, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports.
Incumbents spent an average of $849,528 to an average of $115,911 by the major-party candidates they faced in the general election, helping the House members secure easy victory. None won re-election by less than 29 percentage points.
And the spending is intended to lead to future victories that are just as easy, political observers said.
“When you have to run every two years, you have to stay unbeatable,” said Blair Lee, a political columnist for the Gazette. Racking up large margins of victory helps to convey a sense of dominance and deter future challengers, he said.
Lee noted that former 8th District Rep. Connie Morella, a Republican, did not spend all of her money in a 2000 race that she won narrowly over Democrat Terry Lierman. That narrow victory made her look weak, Lee said, and contributed to her defeat two years later by Democrat Chris Van Hollen.
“If you asked Connie Morella today, I guarantee you she’d say she shouldn’t have kept her powder dry,” said Lee. “She’d say she wishes she would have spent that money in 2000 to keep the wolves at bay.”
That is exactly what Van Hollen did this year. The first-term Democrat spent more than $1.3 million this year to fend off Republican Chuck Floyd, who spent $347,422, the most of any challenger.
Few incumbents “kept their powder dry” in this election, according to post-election reports filed this month with the FEC.
Fifth District Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, who won re-election by a margin of 40 percentage points, spent $1.7 million — more than 12 times the amount spent by first-time congressional hopeful Brad Jewitt.
Third District Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, who won by a margin of 29 percentage points, spent $924,347 — more than six times what was spent by his opponent.
For Cardin, that was more an investment in the future than a necessity for the 2004 race, said Barry Rascovar, another Gazette columnist.
“Cardin spent a fortune because if you look at his district, it is fertile ground for a Republican challenge,” he said of the district, which stretches from Baltimore County to Anne Arundel County. “Cardin has a way to go to get well-known in the southern portion of his district, which is turning increasingly Republican.
“He spent money this year to ensure a big re-election and will probably spend as much next time to scare away serious GOP challenges,” Rascovar said.
Cardin’s Republican opponent, Bob Duckworth, said he thinks that the 10-term incumbent’s high spending on advertising made him all but unbeatable.
“Money is message,” said Duckworth, pointing to television ads run by Cardin. “My opponent’s (fund-raising) advantage allowed him to communicate with voters in a way that I couldn’t . . . I’m sure those ads cost quite a bit of money.”
Steve Sandler, a media strategist whose firm handled advertising for Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest’s re-election bid in the 1st District, said that for challengers, it is “all but impossible to get elected without a vigorous and expensive media strategy.”
For incumbents, Rascovar said, campaign spending is a simple equation, whether they have a tough fight or not: “If the cash is in hand, why not use it?”
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