COLLEGE PARK – Deborah Vollmer is realistic about her chances in next month’s Democratic primary against Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the well-funded 8th District incumbent.
“I agree I am a long shot, but if I can make him rethink his position on Iraq, then I will be successful,” said Vollmer, a lawyer and political activist from Chevy Chase.
None of Van0 Hollen’s five challengers has anywhere near the $488,677 he had spent on his campaign as of June 30, much less the $1.3 million in campaign cash he had on hand. With a campaign finance gap that large, the challengers are focusing on issues.
Republican Daniel Zubairi is the only candidate to file with the Federal Election Commission, reporting $11,093 on hand. None of the other candidates had raised the minimum $5,000 that would require an FEC filing, and Vollmer said she did not plan to even bother with fundraising.
Zubairi, a small business owner from Bethesda, is a member of Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s Homeland Security Council. Because of his security business, Zubairi said he has a particular interest in reducing gang violence. But his major concern is transportation.
Zubairi said he is using technology to reach voters and bridge the gap in campaign finances between him and Van Hollen.
Gus Alzona, a management consultant, accountant and community activist from Bethesda, had the most political experience of the Republican candidates. He has run in several local elections in the past.
Like Vollmer, Alzona disagreed with Van Hollen’s position on Iraq. Alzona said that troops could not withdraw from Iraq unless Congress stopped funding the war.
Republican candidate Jeffrey Stein and Green Party candidate Gerard Giblin could not be reached for comment.
Whoever comes out of the Republican primary on Sept. 12 will have an uphill battle, said Tom Reinheimer, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
Keith Haller, president of Potomac Inc., agreed.
“Van Hollen is a lock for re-election,” said Haller, whose firm conducts election surveys. Only an extremely well-known candidate with money would dare challenge Van Hollen, he said.
But Van Hollen claims he is taking nothing for granted, even though the two-term incumbent had more money in his campaign bank account that any other House candidate in Maryland.
He responded to war critics by saying: “I have been opposed to the war in Iraq from the beginning. But as long as they (the soldiers) are in harm’s way, I would support providing equipment.”
While he is working to keep challengers in his district at bay, Van Hollen is also helping candidates around the country gain a Democratic majority in the House.
He leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that is helping candidates around the country in hopes of gaining the 15 seats in the House that Democrats need for a majority. Part of his campaign funds are going to support those Democratic candidates, Van Hollen said.
“We need to enact an agenda in Congress that reflects the priorities of this community,” said Van Hollen, who added that he is supporting Democratic challengers in Connecticut and New York.
Van Hollen has done well since his election to Congress in 2002, said Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland. Van Hollen has given voters no issue to take him out of office, Walters said.
Van Hollen’s FEC filings show that 75 percent of his campaign contributions, $1,024,883, came from individuals. Non-party committees, such as political action committees, contributed 22 percent, $305,610.
Lawyers and law firms made up the largest single industry to give to Van Hollen, who is on the Judiciary Committee, donating $207,750 to his campaign.
The second-largest group was retired individuals, who gave $116,200. Phyllis Van Auken, 88, of Kensington, but said she gave Van Hollen $1,000 because he was doing a great job.
Constituent support is reflected in his strong campaign finances, and Van Hollen is using those finances to build incumbency power and congressional power.
“He can keep his seat as long as he wants,” Haller said.
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