WASHINGTON – Dr. Peter Beilenson, the former Baltimore Health Commissioner, has outpaced Democratic opponents in the race for Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District by raising $235,000 so far, about $88,000 more than his closest rival.
At least six Democrats are jostling for the seat held by Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Baltimore, who is running to replace U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., who retires next year.
Four 3rd District candidates, including Sarbanes’ son, John, raised more than $100,000 in the third quarter of this year, which ran from July 1 to Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Beilenson posted the most cash on hand, $170,000.
“To have four candidates with six-figure totals is, I think, an indication of a pretty high level of interest in the race across the board,” said William Galston, director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland.
Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Baltimore County, who announced her candidacy in July, ranks second in fund-raising with $147,000. Oz Bengur, Maryland Democratic Party treasurer and an investment banker from Rodgers Forge, and John Sarbanes, a Baltimore lawyer, raised $104,000 and $102,000, respectively.
All attributed Beilenson’s fund-raising lead to his campaign’s early start in June. Bengur announced his candidacy Oct. 5 and Sarbanes will formally announce Oct. 26.
The field continues to be in flux. Delegate Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County, will not run, he told Capital News Service. The congressman’s nephew was often mentioned as a possible contender.
Jon Cardin had “very, very seriously” considered joining the race but had instead decided to “stay put” for the benefit of his constituents and the state, he said. He said he will make an official statement soon.
Kevin O’Keeffe, a former senior aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet Owens, will file his candidacy next week, O’Keeffe said.
Candidate Bill Burlison, an Anne Arundel County Council member, did not make fund-raising figures available. Candidates are only required to file a statement of candidacy and financial disclosure reports with the FEC if they raise more than $5,000.
Although far from “eye-popping,” the numbers indicate Democrats are in for “a pretty hotly contested nomination,” Galston said.
Blair Lee, a political columnist for the Gazette newspapers, said that while the numbers are not remarkable, achieving them more than 10 months before the primary certainly is.
“This whole race has taken off much too early,” Lee said.
Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, has already dropped out of the race, Lee said. Quinter, who raised $27,000 in the third quarter for a total of $54,000, could not be reached for comment.
The battle for the Democratic nomination typically determines the winner in the general election, political analysts agreed.
The predominantly Democratic 3rd District, which includes Baltimore City and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, is a “safe seat” for the party, Galston said. Ben Cardin won 66 percent of the vote against Republican Scott Conwell in 2002 and 63 percent against Republican Robert Duckworth in 2004.
“One of the most significant developments of the past generation in American politics is the dramatically increasing number of ‘safe’ Congressional seats — seats that are safely in the hands of one political party, barring an earthquake,” Galston said.
If a political party knows it will lose in a particular district, it will avoid investing time and money in a candidate, Galston said.
There are no Republican candidates declared for the race so far, although several possible names have come up.
Conwell, a Crofton lawyer, said he has not ruled out a run in 2006. Duckworth, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court clerk, was unavailable for comment.
Lee agreed there were too many Democratic candidates from north of the district.
“This race begs for a candidate from Anne Arundel County,” Lee said. Owens, the Anne Arundel County executive, has been exploring a bid for the seat and could be that candidate, Lee said.
“We’re all waiting for the shoe to drop” for Owens, Lee said.
The race could become very expensive because it would be eclipsed in attention by heated contests for an open Senate seat and for the gubernatorial primary and general election, Lee said.
“People will need to generate their own political messages with their own funding,” Lee said.
Derek Walker, Maryland Democratic Party spokesman, said the strong fund-raising totals showed a lot of party support in the district.
“Ultimately, we’re going to keep that seat, no matter who it is,” Walker said.
Lee predicted more candidates would enter from other parts of the district.
“It’s a little early to handicap the race in terms of money,” Lee said. “We don’t even know what the field is yet.”