WASHINGTON – Republican challenger Steven Hudson’s campaign for the 8th District seat of Rep. Chris Van Hollen is behind in cash, voter registration and name recognition — in short, he’s a long shot.
Hudson, an eye doctor and Navy officer, raised $54,923 for the cycle, more than any Republican challenger in Maryland’s historically Democratic districts this year, but still trails Van Hollen, D-Kensington, by more than $2 million.
Only about 20 percent of voters are Republicans in the district, which includes much of Montgomery County, and a narrow slice of Prince George’s. Van Hollen beat the last Republican challenger by 55 points in 2006.
Even though Republican chances remain slim this time around, Hudson said Van Hollen is vulnerable on the economy, and he can rally more voters to his cause. Economic reform has been the staple of Hudson’s campaign since before the latest market crash, and he has more recently positioned himself as an alternative to Van Hollen’s vote for the unpopular bailout last month.
“He thinks he?s invincible, and the reason he?s not invincible is that he voted for this treacherous bailout,” said Hudson in a recent interview. “He has done nothing for our country. He has done nothing for this district but take, take, take.”
In mid-September, Hudson said he was in the race to make a statement, but 23 days and a 3,000-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average later, Hudson policy director Andrew Padula told Capital News Service that Van Hollen should look for a “real job for the first time in his life.”
Van Hollen, who was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates 18 years ago, knew the bailout wouldn’t play well on the stump. “Nobody liked this bill,” he said.
Van Hollen said the core of his campaign, and his congressional agenda, are the economy, education and renewable energy. He defended the bailout vote, saying inaction would have worsened the deteriorating markets and quashed jobs.
“You have a situation where the credit freeze in the financial markets was spreading rapidly to the larger economy and it would be middle-class Americans and middle-America that would be most hurt if we failed to act,” he said.
Hudson argued that Van Hollen’s support for the bailout is a sign of his partisanship, saying “I will never be bullied into making a decision that would harm the American People.”
Van Hollen became chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, a decidedly partisan position that propelled the Kensington Democrat to the national stage.
“For the change we need, we not only need to elect Barack Obama as president, we need to give him a robust Democratic majority in Congress,” Van Hollen told the Democratic National Convention in August while touting the campaigns of other Democrats.
According to Hudson, the chairmanship pulls Van Hollen away from the district too often, causing him to lose “touch with the voters.”
Despite Hudson’s economic bent, which includes a slurry of conservative policy positions ranging from tax cuts and immigration control to energy independence, these attacks may be falling short. Democratic registration has soared this year in the already deep blue district, and many voters may not fault congress for the financial crisis, even though that body’s approval rating, at 14 percent, is even lower than the president’s.
“People view the economy as something that is just the fault of the Bush administration,” said Michael Cain, the director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, who expects major Democratic gains in November. “I think the American people understand that changing the direction of the economy is like changing the direction of an oil tanker.”
Van Hollen, for his part, doesn’t appear worried. His campaign’s Web site lists only one news release since the convention in August — announcing an endorsement by The Washington Post — and he didn’t bother to appear at a candidates’ forum earlier this month, sending his legislative director instead.
Also running in the district are Green Party nominee Gordon Clark and two write-in Democratic candidates, Deborah Vollmer and Lih Young.
Capital News Service staff writer Ben Swartz contributed to this report.