WASHINGTON – The congressional candidates in the hotly contested 1st District have poured fundraising proceeds into a television advertising arms race, according to finance reports out this week.
State Sen. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, has sought to characterize Frank Kratovil, the Democratic Queen Anne’s state’s attorney, as “out of touch,” while Kratovil ads call Harris’ ideas “way out there.”
As the race heats up, and polls and fundraising figures tighten, the ads have sometimes overreached. The Harris campaign recently hit Kratovil on a now-corrected misquote in Salisbury’s Daily Times implying the financial crisis has been “solved.”
An attack ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused Harris of offering tax breaks to big oil on the strength of an article in the Saturday, Sept. 13, edition of the (Easton) Star Democrat.
That paper doesn’t publish on Saturday.
Kratovil outpaced Harris in fundraising for the first time this quarter, bringing in nearly $597,000 to Harris’ $557,000. Kratovil has routed 71 percent of his campaign expenses to televised commercials, while Harris spent 60 percent on ads, according to the campaign finance reports filed Wednesday.
Harris still leads in total fundraising by more than $1 million, and has more cash on hand, about $750,000 to Kratovil’s $500,000. “We’re very happy with where the numbers are,” said Chris Meekins, the Harris campaign manager, noting that those reserved resources would allow for a strong finish. “Elections are won in the last 30 days. Obviously, there’ll be a full-fledged television, direct mail, radio (campaign).”
Meekins declined to comment on the amount of new advertising the campaign will buy with its deeper cash reserves, but said, “people will see the difference between Andy Harris and Frank Kratovil.”
Kratovil spokesman Kevin Lawlor said, “We had a feeling that it was going to be our best quarter yet.” He attributed the success to an increase in volunteers and Republican contributors brought on board by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who crossed the line to endorse Kratovil in September.
Gilchrest lost the Republican primary to Harris and was the subject of harsh criticism in Harris’ commercials.
The Kratovil campaign picked up switch-hitting donors at fundraisers, including one at the home of Anne Kimberly, a lifelong Republican and former Gilchrest supporter who now backs Kratovil.
“You’d be fooling yourself to think that all these Republcians would naturally be drawn to Frank (Kratovil),” said Lawlor. “They have to hear what he has to say,” and Gilchrest opens them up to that message.
The Kratovil campaign also outspent Harris from July to October, the period covered in the report, shedding $114,000 more than Harris. All of that difference, and then some, was consumed in Kratovil’s more extensive television advertising, a $379,000 line item. The Harris campaign said it was conserving resources for the final leg of a campaign that both camps expect to become even more aggressive.
Both campaigns have already run a series of negative ads decried as dishonest by the other side. In addition to the “crisis is solved” ad, the Harris campaign appears to have recycled primary election footage of constituents calling Gilchrest a “big spender,” and a “liberal” in a new ad, in which the same people appeared in front of the same backdrops, saying similar things about Kratovil.
“Everyone we’ve asked believes Frank Kratovil is a liberal,” said Meekins of the Democratic candidate, noting that the quotes in the second ad were different. Kratovil had tried to distance himself from his own party’s liberal leadership, he added.
Lawlor said he wondered why reporters continued to portray these and other disputes between the campaigns as “he said-he said,” when proof — such as an audio recording of Kratovil’s comments on the financial crisis, and YouTube videos of the overly similar ads — are readily available.
“It’s almost like they’re saying the Internet doesn’t exist,” he said.