COLLEGE PARK -- The first time Democrat Andrew Duck ran for election in the 6th District, he said his employer at the time, Northrop Grumman, "had no objection" to him running for Congress.
Then the company turned around and wrote a check to the campaign of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the Republican Duck was hoping to unseat.
The pattern is repeating itself in the 2010 election, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Bartlett receives -- and has consistently received -- a significant portion of campaign funds from defense interests, including $2,000 from the Northrop Grumman Employees PAC and $2,500 from Lockheed Martin as of June 30, the latest filing deadline.
"I'm a realist," said Duck, who is again running to unseat Bartlett. "I know the big corporations will not give to my campaign. But my campaign is a grassroots effort, and I have support from the small donors and the labor unions."
Bartlett, who is seeking a 10th term in Congress, had $416,464 on hand as of June 30. Democrat Casey Clark, who gave his campaign $50,000, had $19,446 in the bank, and Duck had $2,997 on hand, according to their FEC reports.
Only two of the other six candidates in the 6th District reported raising any money: Republican Joseph Krysztoforski had $1,153 on hand and Republican Steven Michael Taylor had $67 in the bank.
Duck concedes that he faces a tough fight against the better-funded Bartlett in the predominantly Republican district, but he is confident that his message of change and government accountability will resonate with voters.
"There's an anti-incumbent mood in the district," Duck said. "Bartlett's rubbing people the wrong way, and money helps in a campaign, but it's not the only thing."
Bartlett's congressional chief of staff sees things differently.
"I hope he (Duck) stays in that mindset," Bud Otis said. "Bartlett's very popular in the 6th District."
He dismissed suggestions that there is anything questionable about Bartlett taking defense industry donations.
"Congressman Bartlett has a strong interest in research and development," Otis said. "He's worked in the Navy before and for military contractors so naturally they're excited and they feel comfortable with him."
Clark could not be reached for comment. The telephone number on his campaign filings and his website was a nonworking number.
"We haven't heard from him. I spoke to Duck and they haven't heard from him either," Otis said. "I don't know what kind of campaign he's running, but we'll nail him."
Duck said he has not seen Clark, his only challenger in the Democratic primary, at any campaign events since April. Duck said he is focused on unseating Bartlett, and is not daunted by the amount of defense-sector funds going to the incumbent.
Not only is Duck not interested in courting big defense contractors, but corporate PACs are likely to stick with funding the candidates they have in the past -- even when the challenger may be one of their own.
Duck, who works as chief of futures and trades at Army intelligence company TASC, said he understands that such companies are reluctant to shift loyalties in congressional elections without a compelling reason to do so.
Randy Belote, Northrop Grumman's vice president of strategic communications, said there are certain key criteria that are considered when the employee PAC decides which candidates to contribute to.
"First and foremost, we have to be asked," Belote said. "We respond to requests."
The company's PAC also requires that the candidate have a substantial interest in national security. Northrop Grumman PAC has been a faithful contributor to Bartlett's campaign for specifically these reasons, Belote said.
"We tend to be consistent in our PAC contributions," he said.
Paul Herrnson, a professor in the University of Maryland's Department of Government and Politics, says incumbents in general almost always have the advantage when it comes to PAC contributions in an election year.
Typically, an incumbent receives about 40 percent of campaign contributions from PACs, Herrnson said. Challengers, on the other hand, get a scant 9 percent.
"Giving to challengers is not a wise move," Herrnson said. "And incumbents like Bartlett raise a lot of PAC money because they have a high probability of getting re-elected."
In the 6th District, Bartlett has the advantage of a better-financed campaign in a Republican region. It would take a substantial event, such as Bartlett's retirement, area redistricting, or a corruption scandal, for him to become vulnerable, Herrnson said.
However, underfunded challengers have come through in the past, and it cannot be completely ruled out due to discrepancies in campaign funding, Herrnson said.
"This race is a long shot," for the 6th District challengers, Herrnson said. "But you never know what's going to happen."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.