By Aleksandra Robinson
WASHINGTON – Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil’s conservative voting record seems tailored to his GOP-leaning district, but voters may not notice until they’re asked to cast a ballot of their own, experts and residents say.
“I haven’t followed Kratovil too much,” said Joe Doherty of Chestertown. “He’s a typical blue-dog Democrat. He’s trying to be middle-of-the-road.”
Michael Cain, co-chairman of the Political Science Department at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said that between elections it’s normal for people to ignore their representative’s congressional voting record.
“It’s too early for voters to really be completely tuned in to what’s going on with their individual representatives,” he said.
But, Cain said, it is sure that both parties are watching and will remind each other of what Kratovil has been doing in Congress come election time.
“The 1st District promises to be, again, the exciting rematch, the most exciting race in Maryland in 2010,” Cain said of the November election. “This will be again likely to be a close race.”
In 2008, Kratovil beat Republican Andy Harris by fewer than 3,000 votes — less than 1 percent — becoming the first Democrat to represent the 1st District in 18 years. Harris has already started fundraising for the 2010 race.
David Ferraris, marketing manager for Easton’s Avalon Theatre, said he voted for Kratovil, but hasn’t had time to follow him since he went back to work after being a full-time dad.
“I haven’t really heard a lot of buzz on the street about him,” said Ferraris, who missed Kratovil’s no vote on health care. “I’m interested to see why he voted against the health care bill in the House.”
Cain said Kratovil needs to establish his independence from the Democratic Party.
“He needs to show that he’s willing to tack to the middle and the right if that’s what his constituents want,” said Cain.
Kratovil is a self-described conservative Democrat and member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats.
His no vote on the House health care bill, “might get him re-elected,” said Probation Officer John Fitzpatrick, 56, of Chestertown. “It’s just too expensive. Mr. Kratovil is right. It’s just too expensive at this point.”
Fitzpatrick said that because of Kratovil’s vote on health care, he’ll vote for him again in 2010. Fitzpatrick had been disappointed by Kratovil’s vote for the final stimulus package, which he had originally opposed.
“I think that was a big mistake,” Fitzpatrick said. “But he redeemed himself with the health care vote.”
Other Eastern Shore residents, like Harold Ridgely Cecil, 81, of St. Michael’s, were less swayed by Kratovil’s health care vote.
“I don’t care for his politics. Why not? Because he’s a socialist,” said Cecil, who has run for the 1st District seat twice. “I like what (health care) I have and I don’t want anybody to mess with it.”
In light of Rep. Frank Kratovil’s recent health care vote, many Democrats were dismayed — but not surprised.
Christina Showalter, 64, of Chestertown campaigned for Kratovil during the 2008 election.
She said she was “a little disappointed” in his health care vote, but didn’t think it was surprising.
“I’m waiting,” she said. “I feel the jury is still out.”
Harris, who serves in the Maryland Senate, said he plans to take advantage of the discontent over Kratovil’s voting record.
“I think that in 2010 the American people will once again realize that the Republican Party is really the party of fiscal conservatives,” said Harris, who is also an anesthesiologist. “That district normally, in normal years, favors Republicans and I think in 2010 will return to favoring Republicans.”
Cain said Kratovil was partially elected in 2008 by high Democratic voter turnout.
“If Democratic voter turnout is only a little depressed in the 1st District that could be enough to unseat him,” Cain said. “During midterm elections the incumbent party typically loses seats. This is a seat that was going to be very difficult to hold.”
Anne Helton, a member of the Harford Democratic Club, volunteered for Kratovil’s campaign and frequently calls his office to share her view of his actions.
“This is probably the most important bill that he will pass in his lifetime,” she said. “He will have to do what I call, ‘the right thing’ and I know what the risks are.”
Those risks could include loss of the Democratic hold on the 1st District seat.
“The challenge here,” she said, “is that he has to understand the points of view of people here who wouldn’t typically vote for him because of the ‘D’ after his name.”
Much of the race, Cain said, comes down to the money candidates are able to raise — and the money they save not fending off opponents in the primary election.
The million-dollar question, Cain said, is whether Kratovil’s health care vote will affect his ability to raise money from Democrats.
As of Sept. 30, Kratovil has more cash on hand, $691,205, than any of his opponents, according to Federal Election Commission filings. His closest fundraising rival, Harris, had $313,054.
That’s the money that, during a campaign, will pay for candidate name-recognition among voters. But as of now, few Eastern Shore voters seem to be tracking their congressman.
“I’ve heard both good and bad things, but overall I’m happy,” said April Ann Marshall, 62, who owns Twigs and Teacups in Chestertown, a store that sells “everything but electrics and the kitchen sink.”
“I did vote for him, but I don’t want it to be an issue in my life,” she said. “I am excessively happy that there is someone out there taking care of things in the country….I vote, but for the person.”