WASHINGTON – Maryland’s top two U.S. Senate candidates raised almost $1.1 million in the 15 days before the election, a handsome sum that reflects the race’s importance in deciding control of the chamber.
Incoming Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin raised more than $619,500, and former Republican candidate Michael Steele gathered $466,000, according to 48-hour notices of contributions and loans received between Oct. 23 and Nov. 6 that the campaigns filed.
These reports are filed on contributions of $1,000 or more received after the 20th day, but more than 48 hours before the day of the election. They are available on the Federal Election Commission Web site.
Raising around $1.1 million between the two candidates in such a short time “must be a record” for Maryland, said Matthew Crenson, professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.
“What it probably means is that by that point in the election it became evident to everybody nationwide that the control of the Senate was up in the air,” he said. “This election in Maryland, because it was one relatively close, was not just about whether Steele or Cardin would win; it was the control of the U.S. Senate.”
Democrats won control of the U.S. Senate and House in the midterm election Nov. 7. Maryland’s Senate seat was among the most hotly contested in the country because it was open — Sen. Paul Sarbanes was retiring after 30 years in office — and polls showed the race very close.
Cardin won in Maryland with 54.2 percent of the vote and Steele, the lieutenant governor, got 44.2 percent, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections. Tri-party candidate Kevin Zeese got 1.5 percent of the vote.
The increasing importance of the race kept contributions coming.
“It’s an awful amount of money to have raised at a time when you really need to spend every moment with voters if you can,” said Massie Ritsch, communication director of Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks campaign finance.
“Normally you try to do all your fundraising early so then you can focus on the voters. In this case they apparently were able to still raise money right until the end.”
Cardin got 52 percent of his last-minute cash from individual contributions, and the rest of the money he gathered — $294,800 — came from political action committees.
Steele also got most of his money — $ 257,350– from individual contributions, while 45 percent came from political action committees.
The Maryland U.S. Senate race was “just outside of Washington quarters so you have a lot of politically active people who are naturally and professionally inclined to contribute to a political campaign.” said Ritsch. “That also, I think, explains the amount of money (both collected).”
Most of the money both candidates collected came from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., but about $319,100 came from other states, including Texas, California, New York and Florida.
Steele received 36.6 percent from other states, while Cardin took 24 percent of his contributions from out of the tri-state area.
Contributions from other states reflect how important Maryland’s race became in the fight for controlling the Senate, Crenson said.
“People in New York, Texas, Florida and places like that were less interested in who won the Senate seat in Maryland than who controlled the Senate,” he said.
Several key dates stand out in the campaign for both fundraising and news, as the rhetoric turned testy and issues such as stem-cell research or race became the hot topics.
One of those days was Oct. 26, when the three candidates met at Newschannel 8 for one of the toughest debates of the campaign. They argued, interrupted each other and shouted.
On that day alone, Steele took in $119,050, while Cardin got $95,200, largely in both cases from political action committees.
When actor Michael J. Fox was the main draw at a Nov. 2 rally, Cardin got $117,500, while Steele received $35,750. Fox, obviously suffering from his Parkinson’s disease, appeared in a TV add asking people to vote for Cardin, because he supported stem-cell research, unlike Steele.
The candidates’ race and the races of their followers also became controversial and may have contributed to their fundraising prowess.
Steele “also represented something very important for the Republican Party,” said Crenson. He could have become the state’s first black U.S. Senator, and also “was a symbol of the Republican attempt to appeal to the African Americans.”
On Nov. 3, when they held another debate organized by the Collective Banking Group of Prince George’s County and Vicinity, a coalition of more than 100 black churches, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was visiting Prince George’s County, Cardin and Steele collected more than $154,200.
The campaign overall, was the most costly of any other recent Senate race. The three candidates raised a collective $14.8 million by the end of September, according to their last financial campaign report.
In 2000, Sarbanes was challenged by Republican Paul H. Rappaport, and they gathered a total of 2.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics Web site. In 2004, Sen. Barbara Mikulski faced Republican E.J. Pipkin, and they raised a collective $8.7 million.
Ritsch said that every race has “its own dynamic, particularly the Senate races.” For the next campaign Ritsch said he would not expect the fundraising to be the same in Maryland.
Crenson agreed, saying, “Given the current state of Maryland Republican Party I don’t think it’s going to be able to contest the U.S. Senate seat as they did this year.”