By Christopher Weaver and Laurie White
CENTREVILLE – The long battle for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District ended in dueling news conferences Tuesday, with the Democratic state’s attorney, Frank Kratovil, embracing victory in front of the Queen Anne’s County Court House in Centreville.
A couple of hours earlier, state Sen. Andy Harris told supporters in Salisbury that he’d called Kratovil to congratulate him on the win.
Observers don’t expect a recount in the neck-and-neck race that the Democrat leads by about 2,100 votes, including many absentee and provisional ballots tallied after Election Day.
“I am honored and humbled to represent the 1st District,” Kratovil told the crowd. He struck a unifying tone in the announcement, telling Harris voters, “I will do my best to earn your support.”
The long race was ugly at times as the campaigns traded accusations in television commercials, but Kratovil used the victory announcement to highlight policy areas where he said both parties, and both sides of the Chesapeake Bay, share common ground.
He pledged to fight for veterans and fiscal responsibility, and to balance the interests of the economy and environment, all standards of the outgoing congressman, Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, who crossed the party line to endorse Kratovil after losing to Harris in the primary.
“I hope to continue the legacy of Congressman Gilchrest,” Kratovil said.
In an interview after the event, Kratovil said he spoke to Gilchrest Monday night, and that the congressman was happy and a little tired. The two will continue their discussions during the transition, he said.
A few other factors propelled Kratovil to victory. His support for the environment — the keystone of Gilchrest’s bipartisan following — drew volunteers like Jackie Rettig of Easton. She made at least 1,000 calls on Kratovil’s behalf.
“He’s for the environment for the people down here on the Shore and just in general,” she said.
Kratovil, 40, the younger of the two candidates (Harris is 51), also drew youth voters like Sugar Stallings of Severn, the Minority Caucus Parliamentarian for the Young Democrats of America.
“I only work for candidates who are for young people,” she said. “I believe in what he’s doing and I believe in what he’s saying. There’s not a better person to represent Congressional District 1 than Frank Kratovil.”
And for many older voters, Kratovil’s 10 years living on the Eastern Shore compelled their vote.
“What’s important to people on the Eastern Shore?” asked Ann Wilmer Hoon, a lifelong Democrat with long family ties to Kent County. “Agriculture. Water. People,” she said. Kratovil, she says, “thinks like we do.”
Kratovil approached these issues with a prosecutorial consideration, measuring his responses to questions and policy prescriptions. Some supporters said that trait hurt him in debates, but he circled back in the news conference to a promise of bipartisan representation.
“The more you get into a case, the more you recognize there’s some truth on the other side,” he said.
Kratovil finished with a lead of 915 votes on election night, and the candidates braced for possible challenges and recounts. Both deployed operatives to observe absentee ballot counts last week. After the first series of ballots were counted, Kratovil’s advantage climbed to more than 2,000 votes, and the campaigns issued challenges in some counties.
But the Associated Press called the race for Kratovil Friday night, and his campaign withdrew its challenges.
One Kratovil volunteer said he expected aggressive challenges from the Harris camp during the provisional ballot counts Monday, but the campaign declined to send observers and a concession appeared imminent.
Kratovil, an underdog throughout most of the race, seemed a little surprised by the win and the preparations for taking office.
“I want to hit the ground running,” he said later. But, “I’m still sort of getting past the winning.”