ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reported Wednesday that his reelection campaign has $8.4 million in the bank after a year in which he vastly out-did his Democratic rivals in fund raising.
On the Democratic side, Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley has barely half as much as Ehrlich, $4.19 million, while Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan has $1.35 million, finance reports from both candidates show.
With 10 months left before Election Day, Ehrlich has already raised almost $300,000 more than he did during his entire 2002 campaign, a performance that John C. Reith, Ehrlich’s finance director, called “staggering.”
“We’re exactly where we need to be,” he said. “People are writing checks because they like what Gov. Ehrlich is doing.”
But experts caution that these numbers aren’t a very good indicator of how the race will play out because fundraising will pick up in earnest as Election Day draws closer. Some expect Ehrlich to more than double his current total and challengers O’Malley and Duncan to make up significant ground.
O’Malley and Duncan must face each other in what could be a difficult and expensive primary to decide who will have the right to challenge the governor. Ehrlich has the luxury of focusing almost all his money on the general election.
“He’ll position himself with TV before November and try to make the voters forget about his four years as governor,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Southern Maryland Democrat.
O’Malley and Duncan, Miller said, will be engaged in a “dogfight” leading up to the primary.
“Right now, it looks pretty lopsided,” James Gimpel, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, said in describing O’Malley’s fund raising lead over Duncan.
O’Malley got the jump on Duncan by announcing his candidacy first and tapping House minority whip Anthony G. Brown, D – Prince George’s, as his running mate, said Frank A. DeFilippo, a commentator and political strategist for former Gov. Marvin Mandel during the 1970s.
Holding such a visible office in the Baltimore media market has also given O’Malley and edge, experts say.
This time last year, Duncan had $1.4 million, $400,000 more than O’Malley.
“We have always expected our opponents to raise more money than us, so it’s no surprise that they did,” Scott Arceneaux, Duncan’s campaign manager, said in a written statement.
“This race is not about money; it’s about promises made and promises kept. It’s about the future of Maryland and the records of the candidates who want to lead our great state,” he said.
Duncan and O’Malley are at an additional disadvantage because former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and U.S. Rep. Benjamin Cardin are also looking for money to finance their bids for the open U.S. Senate seat, said John Kane, Maryland Republican Party chairman.
Democratic leaders said that they are looking to other ways to make up the financial gap that Ehrlich has opened up.
“He may have the money, but he doesn’t have the energy, the volunteer base and the issues on his side,” Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said of Ehrlich.
“I think the $8.4 million that Ehrlich has is a huge disappointment to his campaign,” Lierman said, arguing that the Republican incumbent should have raised more by now. “We are going to overwhelm the Ehrlich-Steele campaign.”
Democrats are also counting on the 2-1 registration advantage they enjoy over Republicans in Maryland to carry them through the elections.
“Whoever the Democratic nominee is will be able to compensate with grassroots organization and getting the shoe leather out there,” Miller said.
Republicans are quick to point out a large following of their own. Ehrlich received contributions from more than 20,000 donors, which Kane said is indicative of the governor’s growing popularity.
Despite all the talk of broadening support bases, experts and politicians agree that campaigns must be well financed to succeed. “You’ve got three building blocks in any campaign: money, media and organization,” DeFilippo said. “You can win with any two of them, as long as one of those is money.”