COLLEGE PARK – The relatively crowded Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District has been a relatively low-cost affair for the three candidates so far.
Jim Corwin, the only Democrat to report his fundraising to the Federal Election Commission, had raised $13,918 as of June 30 and still had $9,964 on hand.
Kostas Alexakis and Christopher R. Robinson both filed to run after the last FEC reporting deadline had passed, but both were confident they could raise enough to win. Robinson estimated that he could win the primary with as little as $25,000.
After that, things get expensive.
Eight-term Republican incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest has wide name recognition and he had $267,076 in the bank on June 30, according to the FEC. While all the Democrats believe they can beat Gilchrest, all of them recognized the challenge of raising the money to do it.
“It’s very difficult to unseat an incumbent,” Robinson said. “The kind of campaign I will run will be a grassroots campaign.”
Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest’s chief of staff, said a challenger would need to raise $1 million to unseat the incumbent. But he said the Gilchrest campaign will likely get by with less, even though “$200,000, in Maryland politics, does not go very far. It’s easy to spend more than $100,000 a week.”
Caligiuri said Gilchrest, who does not accept money from political action committees, has never been focused on raising a lot of money. “We want to only raise as much as we need to run a responsible race,” he said.
Corwin, a doctor, remains optimistic about his chances in the election.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t thing I could win,” the Anne Arundel County resident said.
Corwin said his supporters are core and grassroots Democrats — but that many are also low-income patients or former patients, who cannot offer significant campaign donations.
While Gilchrest received $242,578 from individuals, Corwin got $11,918 from individuals, $1,000 from the American Academy of Family Physicians Political Action Committee and a $1,000 from himself.
“Money buys access to mass media and that’s what I’m lacking,” he said.
Alexakis agreed that money “is very important. But I believe that I will be able to match Gilchrest in fundraising.”
Alexakis — the Democratic nominee against Gilchrest in 2004 — said he can get donations from a network of party members across the district and state if he wins the primary, but that he is glad to be running against two other Democrats.
“I am pleased that there are two others in the primary with me, because without discussion people will not rethink their positions and continue to vote for the incumbent,” he said.
Like Alexakis, Robinson said that if he wins the primary, he thinks his chances against Gilchrest are good, and he is confident he can raise enough money to compete. Robinson and the others dismissed suggestions that winning will take vast amounts of money, saying Gilchrest is not as popular as many believe.
“People I talk with say that Gilchrest is too comfortable in his job. They want something new,” said Robinson, who was chief of staff for then-Rep. Roy Dyson, a Democrat who held the seat before Gilchrest.
But Audra Miller, communications director for the Maryland Republican Party, said Gilchrest remains popular because he governs from the center.
“He has not gotten bogged down with partisan politics. He works from the center to help the 1st District,” she said.
A spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party insists this year is different.
“There are different dynamics this year. Republicans are running scared, that’s why Gilchrest is trying to separate himself,” David Paulson said. He said the party will make an assessment after the primary to determine what resources the nominee needs to get out the vote.
Getting out the vote may not be enough on the Eastern Shore, which does not vote along party lines, said Harry Basehart, a political science professor at Salisbury University.
“For example, the Eastern Shore would probably go for Ehrlich, but we still have Democratic delegates in the county council,” Basehart said.
“For Wayne to have a strong challenger, he would have to raise money,” he said, “but he wouldn’t need a lot of money to run.”
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