COLLEGE PARK – When Rep. Chris Van Hollen was weighing a Senate bid earlier this year, Ann G. Humphrey gave $2,500 to the Kensington Democrat who she said would be “an excellent senator if he decided to run.”
He didn’t. But Humphrey, a Bethesda homemaker, does not plan to ask for her money back.
Neither, apparently, do many of the other people who helped Van Hollen raise $718,077 in the first half of the year, leaving the second-term Democrat with just over $1 million as of June 30, according to his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Samantha Gross, finance director for Van Hollen’s campaign, said he promised donors that if he did not run for Senate he would use their contributions to help up-and-coming Democratic candidates. Van Hollen is co-chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2006 candidate recruitment effort.
“As the chair of the Democratic recruitment effort, he (Van Hollen) is going to be helping the party out financially,” Gross said.
Until then, Van Hollen’s hefty campaign account should help his 8th District House re-election bid, experts say.
“Large war chests sometimes discourage the opposition party and make it more difficult to attract a strong candidate,” said Thomas Mann, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, in an e-mail interview.
Charles Floyd, the Kensington Republican who lost to Van Hollen in 2004, had not filed an FEC report for the second quarter this year. In his last filing, he reported raising $5,217 through March 31 — $5,000 of that was a loan from Floyd to the campaign — and spending $5,491.
Floyd owed $290,961 in debts from his 2004 campaign, according to his latest filing. He could not be reached for comment.
Van Hollen, who announced July 11 that he would not run next year for the seat being vacated by five-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes, finished the first half of this year well ahead of the fund-raising pace he set in the first six months of 2003. At the end of that period, he had raised $313,349 and had $112,130 cash on hand, according to FEC reports.
Individuals contributed more than $615,000 to his campaign this year — 85.6 percent of its total receipts — while non-party committees, such as political action committees, contributed almost $93,000.
George Gould, legislative director of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said the organization is satisfied with Van Hollen’s work in Congress, where he serves on the committee that deals with issues facing letter carriers. The association’s PAC gave $5,000 on April 25 to Van Hollen’s campaign.
“He has taken a high degree of interest on those issues,” Gould said. “We would have been as supportive of him if he ran (for Senate) or not.”
Like Humphrey, Gould said his organization does not plan to ask for its money back.
Richard Vatz, professor of rhetoric and communication at Towson University, said Van Hollen’s success goes beyond his fund-raising abilities.
“He’s got the money, but I don’t think the money is the source of his strength,” Vatz said. “He’s taken the right positions at the right times. He’s played this very well.”
But the Maryland Republican Party has been encouraged by recent voting patterns in the 8th District, spokeswoman Audra Miller said.
Since 1994, the number of unaffiliated voters in the district has grown by 60 percent, she said, and Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich won 30 percent of the district’s vote in 2002.
“Republicans are faring better and better in that district,” Miller said. “It’s not as solidly Democratic as it once was.”
Gross said Van Hollen knows there is plenty of time for other candidates to emerge.
“He’s not going to take anything for granted,” she said. “He’s going to be active with the DCCC and supporting those candidates.”
But Vatz, noting that Van Hollen unseated eight-term Republican Rep. Connie Morella in a multimillion-dollar campaign in 2002, was more straightforward.
“You never say can’t, but I can’t see Van Hollen losing,” Vatz said. “Beating Morella was a good test of his strength. I’d be very surprised if he were challenged.”
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