COLLEGE PARK – Maryland Democrats have made the open congressional seat in the traditionally Republican 1st District the “No. 1 priority for the party” this fall, and interest in the race has driven fundraising near $5 million.
But while the fundraising is setting new records for both parties in the district, analysts predict the same old outcome.
The 1st District race “remains nothing more than an interesting Democratic long-shot opportunity,” said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report.
State and national Democrats, however, predict a good year for the party overall and they said they are counting on that to help Democratic nominee Frank Kratovil beat Republican Andy Harris.
Maryland Democratic Party Executive Director Quincey Gamble said the 1st District race goes hand-in-hand with the effort to elect Barack Obama as president. He said Kratovil, the state’s attorney for Queen Anne’s County, would be a direct beneficiary of the Obama campaign’s voter registration drive.
Kratovil has also been included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which targets GOP districts that might swing Democratic in November. Gamble said that just confirms the “great opportunity” that exists in the district.
Carrie James, regional press secretary for the DCCC, cited Kratovil’s “strong grassroots operation” for his inclusion in the program, which had raised $13,627 for the 1st District race as of Thursday. She said that President Bush’s declining popularity is helping as well.
“It’s a strong Democratic year,” she said.
But Harris’ campaign manager, Chris Meekins, dismissed Kratovil’s inclusion in the Red to Blue program. He called it the result of close ties to DCCC chairman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, whom Meekins referred to in an e-mail as Kratovil’s “Uncle Steny.”
Those ties will help, but they may not help enough, Rothenberg wrote in an e-mail.
“The district is pretty Republican, so while Kratovil has support from Van Hollen and Hoyer, which should translate into resources, we don’t yet regard the race as seriously in play,” Rothenberg wrote.
Much of the campaign fundraising, and much of the fighting, so far came in a bruising Republican primary in which Harris, a state senator from Baltimore County, unseated Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in a three-way race with state Sen. E.J. Pipkin. The three spent more than $3 million during the primary.
Harris’ fundraising has not slowed since then: He has brought in more than $2 million overall, and still had $609,482 in the bank as of June 30, the date of the most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission.
Fundraising for Kratovil, meanwhile, has picked up steam since the February primary, with more than 60 percent of his $811,448 total coming since April, according to the FEC. It said that Kratovil still had $454,027 on hand as of June 30.
Donations to Harris have slowed from at least one source: The Club for Growth, which funneled $435,841 in individual contributions to Harris’ campaign before the primary, had directed just $6,890 to his campaign since, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The political action committee, which champions fiscal conservatism, said it does not see Harris’ race as a concern at this point.
“We still have primaries on our plate,” Nachama Soloveichik, a Club for Growth spokeswoman. “We’re pretty confident that Andy Harris will win.”
In addition to bundling individual contributions to Harris, Club for Growth bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of television and radio ads denouncing his rivals in the run-up to the primary.
Meekins was quick to point out that the campaign had “no coordination of any kind” with the PAC.
Kratovil has benefited from PACs, too, getting the maximum $10,000 contribution from the Service Employees International Union, which also gave to Gilchrest’s campaign. FEC records show that the SEIU transferred $200,000 to Republicans Who Care, a group that purchased $180,000 in advertising denouncing Harris and Pipkin in the primary.
Kratovil campaign manager Tim McCann noted that Harris has loaned $122,000 of his own money to his campaign, including $100,000 on the very last day of the FEC reporting period. He called that a sign that Harris “was falling short of his fundraising goal and needed to lend himself the money to make his numbers look better than they really were.”
The Harris campaign dismissed the claim, saying that according to all public statements they had already exceeded their goals.
“I believe in my message — I’m willing to invest in it,” Harris said.