COLLEGE PARK – Clivie C. Haley Jr. said he has been a loyal Republican for decades, giving to GOP candidates and acting as precinct captain in years past.
But this spring he wrote a check to Frank Kratovil, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 1st District, Haley’s district.
Haley is one of a handful of Republicans who switched sides after incumbent Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, was upended in the primary by state Sen. Andrew Harris, R-Baltimore County.
Haley, 80, had given $1,750 to Gilchrest since last year. In May, the Queenstown resident gave $500 to Kratovil.
“I just think Kratovil is much closer to what Wayne Gilchrest is,” he said.
Harris supporters downplay the importance of cross-party support for Kratovil, the Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney. They said there are Democrats giving to Harris and that many of Kratovil’s GOP backers are merely disgruntled Gilchrest campaign supporters.
‘I tend to discount that group of people,” said Kathleen A. Boland, chair of the Talbot County Republican Central Committee.
Besides Haley, others in that group of people are Anthony P. Mazzaccaro of Princess Anne, who gave $250 to Gilchrest days before February’s primary and turned around and gave $250 to Kratovil in May. Anne M. Kimberly of Easton, a lifelong Republican, had given $6,900 to Gilchrest since 2007, including $3,600 on the day of the primary. In May, she gave Kratovil $1,000 and plans an October fundraiser for him at her home.
“I like Kratovil very much,” said Kimberly, 91. “I don’t like this guy Harris.”
But Boland said Eastern Shore voters are still “just getting to know Andy.” She is not worried that Republicans will vote in large numbers for Kratovil in November, adding that Gilchrest was “not in sync” with many on the Shore.
“I think the voters on the Eastern Shore are by and large more conservative, and that’s whether they’re Democrats or Republicans,” she said.
But Mazzaccaro, who calls himself a fiscal conservative and social liberal, said his opposition to Harris is based partly on the influx of cash Harris’ campaign received for the primary from the Club for Growth.
Since January 2007, the Club for Growth has directed $442,431 in donations to Harris’ campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It said the club also spent more than $530,000 on ads opposing Gilchrest and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne’s, who also ran in the 1st District GOP primary.
“I don’t like the idea of outside money coming in and literally buying the district,” said Mazzaccaro, who teaches environmental science at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
A Harris spokesman pointed out that the majority of the nominee’s contributions have come from Maryland.
“This race is about the issues,” said Chris Meekins, the spokesman. “That’s the focus of this race.”
The Club for Growth is a Washington-based political action committee that supports generally conservative positions like lower taxes, less government spending, school vouchers and deregulation.
Some Gilchrest supporters cited the bitterness of Club for Growth-sponsored ads against Gilchrest as a reason for their switch to Kratovil — Kimberly called the primary campaign ads “absolutely criminal.”
Others said the Shore is too moderate for the conservative Harris.
Boland counters that “there are many people who were disappointed in Congressman Gilchrest because he didn’t vote as a conservative.”
Tim McCann, Kratovil’s campaign manager, said the Democratic nominee is actively seeking the support of Republicans, with whom he has a history of working.
“I’d say that there are large numbers of people who are fans of Wayne Gilchrest’s style of leadership . . . and are very much looking for that kind of person in their next candidate,” he said.
“A few people who haven’t voted Democrat in a long time are taking a look at Frank,” McCann said.
But Boland said Harris is conservative and most voters on the Shore are conservative. Voters will stick with the GOP once they get to know Harris, who is “on the Shore. He’s talking to people,” she said.
“I don’t expect to see any great groundswell for Kratovil among the Republicans,” Boland said. “I’m not worried that Republicans are going to vote for Kratovil at the end of the day.”