WASHINGTON – It’s not entirely clear which Republican candidate will end up challenging one-term Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil, but there are two giving it their best shot.
Eastern Shore cyber-security businessman Rob Fisher will try to top state Sen. Andy Harris in a Sept. 14 Republican primary that is being framed as an outsider-versus-insider politician fight, even though neither candidate is the incumbent.
Harris has, however, spent 12 years in the state General Assembly — where he serves on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee and was minority whip from 2003 to 2006.
But Fisher said Harris’s political resume is exactly the reason Fisher is the better choice.
“If we’re going to change Washington, we need to change who we’re sending to Washington,” Fisher said. “We need to get business-minded people in Congress.”
Fisher said he grew up in Maryland and that rumors that he doesn’t live in the state are “dirty politics.” He was raised in Federalsburg and lives in an apartment in Ocean City, he said.
“I’m the only candidate from the Eastern Shore,” Fisher said.
Harris claims a win in contributions, saying Fisher’s lack of donations reveals a lack of “grassroots support.” Harris has collected more than $1.2 million in individual contributions and another $240,000 from political action committees, including one affiliated with U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick.
Fisher took in one $300 donation since July 1 and raised more than $10,400. But that doesn’t mean he’s out of the money race.
“I haven’t had four years to prepare for this,” he said.
Fisher has loaned his campaign almost $500,000 of his own money and dropped about $152,000 in the past two months on two mass-mail campaigns, automated calls and a $100,000 television ad buy. Harris, in the same period, spent just under $72,000 on advertising.
Kratovil, meanwhile, is unopposed in the Democratic primary and has more than $1.4 million on hand — money he won’t have to spend on a primary and can devote to retaining his seat against the eventual Republican nominee. He’s running a television ad, he announced Tuesday, in Baltimore — an area Harris won by more than 16 percentage points in 2008 — and Salisbury.
Though Kratovil’s camp declined to comment on the Republican primary, his campaign manager Jessica Klonsky said his plan is the same — take advantage of “appeal among moderate and independent voters.”
“In this campaign in order to win he has to appeal to voters across the spectrum,” Klonsky said. “He’s been able to generate quite a bit of excitement.”
Should Harris win the GOP nomination, it will be a rerun of the 2008 contest. Until two years ago, Republicans had the 1st Congressional District firmly in hand, but then Harris, R-Cockeysville, took out nine-term incumbent Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, in the primary before losing the general election to Kratovil by less than a percentage point. Gilchrest endorsed the Democrat, Kratovil, in the general election.
Harris blames his loss, in part, on a groundswell of Democratic support surrounding Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
But Harris’s assertion doesn’t hold up in District 1, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain won 58 percent of the vote, said Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. President George W. Bush also won the district by large margins in 2000 and 2004.
“That’s just not true,” said Herrnson. “Candidates who win always give credit to their campaign and the wisdom of voters. Candidates who lose find something else.”
But Herrnson predicted the tables will turn this time, with Republicans enjoying the surge of support.
Political experts are buzzing about an expected Republican takeover — they’ll take the House, they say, and possibly the Senate, too. As evidence, they begin by citing the victory of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., winning Democratic icon Ted Kennedy’s seat in January. Now Republicans are predicted to nab Senate seats in Delaware, North Dakota and Indiana, where long-term Democrats are retiring. And even White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs acknowledges the House majority is “in play” — that Democrats could possibly lose as many as the 39 seats necessary to end their majority.
Maryland’s District 1 is a seat the analysts are saying could factor into the coup — CQ Politics rated the general election in District 1 a “tossup,” and the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato said the district “leans Republican.”
“The country’s certainly different,” Harris said. “Most people looking at the 2008 election realize that was in part a wave election that favored the Democrats. “Most people feel we need to send another team in.”