WASHINGTON – The nation’s anti-incumbency fervor has prompted a wave of political novices to jump into the 3rd Congressional District primary, but experts say very few of either party have raised enough money or done enough campaigning to make the outcome on Sept. 14 much of a mystery.
“In political science conventional wisdom, the quality challengers have political experience,” said Laura Hussey, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Quality challengers don’t enter a race when they know they can’t win, she said.
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, faces competition from his own party: John Kibler, Michael Miller, and John Rea, none of whom have ever held political office.
Miller, 43, who is married with three children and lives in Linthicum, was recently laid off from his job as a warehouse coordinator. He hasn’t raised any money and he said he believes his political inexperience would benefit votes.
“Not having any ties to anybody I think is a good thing,” he said. “We just need change. Sarbanes voted for the health care bill. Unfortunately he listened to the party rather than the people. He is taking the ‘us’ out of USA.”
Kibler, who says on his website that he will not accept more than $5 per voter, has not reported any campaign contributions to the Federal Election Commission. He could not be reached for comment.
Rea has run for the seat in past elections, but has never won, and has kept a consistently low profile, according to political reporter and columnist for the Annapolis Capital, Paul Foer. Rea, who has not reported any campaign finances, had not returned requests for comment by the time of publication.
Anti-incumbency has led to a swell of “Average Joes” throwing their name into the hat in the primary elections, but Foer and Hussey agree it is unlikely that an unknown will ultimately prevail against Sarbanes, who has been in Congress since 2007 and whose father is former Sen. Paul Sarbanes. The race is especially difficult in District 3, where the convoluted shape covers multiple communities over Baltimore, Howard, and Anne Arundel counties and parts of Baltimore City.
“Any challenger would be pretty hard-pressed to establish that kind of recognition in so many disparate communities,” Hussey said.
Sarbanes, 48, who did not return calls requesting an interview, is married and has three children and lives in the Towson area. He is in his second term in office representing the 3rd District and serves on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Natural Resources.
Sarbanes recently voted for a bill calling for the overhaul of offshore drilling regulations and another to increase funding for teachers in Maryland. For this election, he has raised over $865,000.
Butting heads on the Republican side are Greg Bartosz, Jim Wilhelm, Thomas “Pinkston” Harris, and Tom Defibaugh Sr.
Bartosz, 45, who lives with his wife and son in White Marsh, spent time in the Navy before becoming a government contractor and later working in the transportation industry.
“It’s not about left versus right,” said Bartosz, who said he believes he has a chance at beating Sarbanes by getting bipartisan support — if he makes it to the general election. “The whole paradigm has shifted. It’s up and down — those in power versus ‘we the people.'”
Bartosz had raised just under $18,000 by Aug. 25, of which $9,500 is self-financed.
Wilhelm, 47, lives in Annapolis with his wife and four children and has put his career as a technology consultant on hold to focus on his campaign. He is the only other Republican who reported any campaign contributions and had $42,000 as of late June, $41,000 of which came from himself.
Like so many of the other candidates in this race, he wants to give Congress back to the common people.
“I invested 12 and a half years of my life in the Marine Corps dedicated to this country, and like millions of other Americans, I don’t like where it’s going,” he said.
Neither Harris nor Defibaugh could be reached for comment, and neither has raised any money, according to the FEC.
Also running in the general election are Libertarian Jerry McKinley and Alain Lareau of the Constitution Party.