WASHINGTON – Out-of-state supporters helped state Sen. Andy Harris’ campaign out-raise incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the Republican primary battle for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.
The Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race for the Feb. 12 primary to support Harris, R-Baltimore County. Gilchrest also turned to political action committees in October for funds, but most of his donations still came from within Maryland, according to federal campaign finance reports released last week.
State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Cecil, a former junk bond trader, is also trying to unseat Gilchrest, but mostly with his own money. As of Wednesday, he spent at least $800,000, according to Campaign Manager Mike Brown.
Harry Basehart, a political science professor at Salisbury University, said fundraising particularly helps challengers gain name recognition, especially in an area as large as the 1st District, which encompasses the entire Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil and Harford counties.
“You may have to go to where the money is, and that’s often out of state,” Basehart said.
Harris raised about $1.1 million as of Jan. 23, with $477,000, or 43 percent, coming from Marylanders, according to Campaign Manager Chris Meekins.
“We think it’s evidence of Andy’s conservative message resonating with the voters and resonating with people around the country,” Meekins said, commenting on the fundraising total. “The fact is Andy’s the only conservative running in this race.”
Gilchrest received about $575,000 this election cycle, more than for any other campaign he’s run, according to campaign finance reports released Friday. About $406,000, or 71 percent, came from in-state supporters, said Lynn Caligiuri, a Gilchrest spokeswoman.
Harris’ acceptance of out-of-state support, Caligiuri said, shows he doesn’t have the backing of Marylanders. The Club for Growth has run ads worth about $500,000 in support of Harris, according to press releases, and also given direct donations to his campaign.
“He has the backing of people from outside the state that are trying to win the election and serve their own agenda,” Caligiuri said.
But, Micaheal Cain, the chairman of St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Center for the Study of Democracy, said out-of-state fundraising has become common in competitive congressional races.
“When you try to unseat a formidable opponent like Gilchrest, you’re going to need a very large war chest,” Cain said, referring to out-of-state contributions. “I just don’t think that’s going to be the major issue that separates these candidates.”
Gilchrest himself has received $142,000 from political action committees, which Meekins said is a very large percentage of his total to come from special interest groups.
The use of political action committee funds is atypical for Gilchrest, who turned to them in October for the first time in 15 years, Caligiuri said, after the Club for Growth threw its support behind Harris.
“We’ve had no choice but to up our fundraising,” Caligiuri said. “It doesn’t change Wayne’s overall position of voting his mind.”
Pipkin has been able to stay away from special interest groups, Brown said, by largely funding himself.
“The nice thing about E.J. using his own money is that we’re not beholden to anyone except the district,” Brown said.
Gilchrest has slightly more cash on hand, with $424,000, than Harris, who has $361,000 unspent, according to the Federal Election Commission.
All three campaigns said they’re confident heading into Tuesday’s primary.
“We’re continuing to run full speed right up until the last day,” Meekins said. “We’re going to spend every dime we have.”
The Harris campaign launched its final television ad Wednesday, according to a news release. The ad features 1st District voters along with former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich voicing their support for Harris.
The Pipkin campaign also started a $150,000 ad campaign yesterday with television and radio messages.
Five Democrats are also running in Tuesday’s primary, but the spotlight is on Republicans, who traditionally carry the 1st District.