COLLEGE PARK – Steve Hudson said to forget the more than $2.4 million that Rep. Chris Van Hollen has raised for his 8th District re-election bid — the Republican challenger is not running scared.
“Hard work. That’s what I was raised on and that’s how we’re going to treat this campaign,” said Hudson, an ophthalmologist making his first bid for elected office. “Money doesn’t scare me. We can make up the difference.”
That same tone of defiance was sounded by Green Party nominee Gordon Clark, who said the incumbent “will be surprised that we will not go away and he will have to come out and defend his positions.”
But political analysts said that may be all the challengers can hope for out of this campaign.
“Van Hollen is going to win it in a blowout,” said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University.
Clark and Hudson are running in an overwhelmingly Democratic district against an incumbent who has more than 373 times the amount of cash on hand that the challengers have, combined. Van Hollen had $2.5 million to Clark’s $3,104 and Hudson’s $3,500 as of June 30, according to the most recent reports with the Federal Election Commission.
A fourth candidate, Libertarian Ian Thomas, had not filed with the Federal Election Commission, which is required of candidates once they raise $5,000. He could not be reached for comment.
“Van Hollen is popular in the district and most voters see no need for change,” said Patrick Gonzales of Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies. “If Van Hollen weren’t running it would be a different story.”
Clark is a graduate of Brown University who served as national executive director of Peace Action, a grassroots peace and disarmament organization. He said he would fight in Congress to achieve Al Gore’s challenge to Americans — to produce 100 percent of their electricity from sources with zero carbon emissions within 10 years.
“I am a candidate who is running on a program of a massive switch from a fossil-fuel economy to a renewable-energy economy,” Clark said.
Hudson, who prides himself on not being a lock-step Republican, said the 8th District needs a representative who can work both sides of the aisle “to get things done.”
The ophthalmologist, who served as commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve Medical Corps from 1990 to 2002, said he is “an independent thinker,” citing his energy policy, which champions wind, solar and nuclear power, as an example of his non-partisanship.
But getting the message out against an incumbent is a costly challenge.
“The first and biggest challenge is getting name recognition,” said Clark, who said he will launch a “massive grassroots campaign” after Labor Day, by going door to door and attending every parade or event he can in the district.
Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee Chairman James Shalleck said that kind of “old-fashioned” campaign is often the only option challengers have.
“Money is the way you get your message out. That’s Hudson’s biggest hurdle in my opinion,” Shalleck said.
He said Hudson also plans to spread his message by going door to door.
“Steve is working harder than any candidate has in years,” Shalleck said.
But hard work may not be doing the trick: When asked what he knew of Hudson, Montgomery County Republican Michael Cronin, a delegate to next month’s presidential nominating convention, conceded, “Not a great deal, I have to admit.”
“It’s likely that the Democrats will win,” in the 8th District, Cronin said.
But Van Hollen said he is not taking the election for granted. He said he is “running a strong campaign” — so strong, in fact, that Van Hollen is giving money away.
According to his FEC report, Van Hollen donated 24 percent of his funds, or more than $400,000, to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which he chairs. As chair of the DCCC, Van Hollen said he is working to expand the Democratic majority in the House.
To his opponents, that means Van Hollen has lost focus.
Hudson charged Van Hollen with sacrificing the needs of local voters for national gain.
“Our incumbent is absent. He’s absent from the district,” he said.
Van Hollen disagrees.
“I think people understand that it’s important to work at the local level and also take the initiative to work at the national level,” he said. “I just want to emphasize again that I am very engaged in a whole range of issues important to local voters.”
But Hudson said he is not convinced and neither is Clark. They demand a debate, but so far none has been scheduled.
“It is your fundamental responsibility to the people that you come in front of the people and defend your positions,” said Clark.