Maryland Money Race Reaches New Heights

Maryland congressional challengers have raised $2 million more this year than they had at this time in the 2000 election, driven by high-profile races in the 8th and 2nd districts and deep-pocketed politicians.

Challengers are competitive with incumbents in the fund-raising race, according to recently filed reports with the Federal Election Commission.

Incumbents in Maryland raised $4 million as of June 30, while challengers reported raising $3.1 million.

But experts say it remains to be seen whether money in the bank will mean votes in November.

"Obviously, money makes a difference, but not in every case," said Jonathan Allen, a reporter who covers Maryland politics for Congressional Quarterly.

Most of the challengers' money this year is coming from the 8th District, where Democratic challenger Mark K. Shriver has already raised $2,298,550, compared to Republican Rep. Constance Morella's $1,676,650.

Two other Democrats in that race, Christopher Van Hollen and Ira Shapiro, have raised $1,071,596 and $719,317 respectively, helping make the 8th District the most expensive House race in the country.

Other challengers in the state are digging deep into their own bank accounts to fund their campaigns.

In District 2, businessman-turned-candidate Oz Bengur has put about $300,000 of his own money into his $461,038 campaign for the Democratic nomination to the open seat. Bengur's opponent in the Democratic primary, Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger, has raised all of his $467,673 from outside sources.

In the Republican primary in District 1, challenger Dave Fischer has raised $155,590. But the Timonium lawyer vows to spend more than $200,000 of his own money in his bid to unseat GOP Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who reported raising $208,779.

Allen said putting a personal fortune into one's own campaign can buy a candidate regard.

"Spending money on one's own campaign shows seriousness to potential donors," he said.

It takes money for a candidate to be introduced to the average voter, said American University professor Allan Lichtman.

"Candidates without money usually have low visibility," he said.

But James Gimpel, professor of government at the University of Maryland College Park, said money isn't everything. He doubts that money will be the deciding factor in the District 2 race, for example, where Republican Helen Delich Bentley has raised just $188,895, because she still has high name recognition from when she represented the district from 1984 to 1994.

"Some candidates run on shoestring budgets," Gimpel said. "They have a volunteer staff and they can do well or at least make things interesting."

Allen said money will not likely be the deciding factor in the District 8 race, either. In that race, he believes the Democrat who wins the primary will have to make a compelling case as to why Morella should not be returned to Congress.

Democrat Deborah A. Vollmer finished second in the 8th District primary in 2000, working on a very low budget. She is running again this year, but has not raised the $5,000 needed to file an FEC report.

But 90 percent of those who win congressional elections outspend their opponents, said Steve Weiss, spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

By that standard, most of Maryland's incumbents appear to have no real competition.

In District 3 Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Baltimore, has $571,309 to run against three competitors who have less than $5,000 each, according to the June 30 FEC filings. Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of the 6th District has raised $111,757 for his race against Democrat Don DeArmon, who reported $27,735.

Democratic Reps. Albert Wynn of the 4th District, Steny H. Hoyer of the 5th District and Elijah Cummings of the 7th District had campaign bank accounts ranging from $317,391 to $794,662. None of them faces a challenger with more than $28,000 in the bank.

"Incumbency is very powerful since each member of Congress spends millions of dollars every year serving the district and communicating with constituents," said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

The 8th District may be the only one where incumbency will not be the deciding factor, Gimpel said. Because the district was significantly altered this year in redistricting, Morella is new to many voters in her district.

But Gimpel also noted that Morella, as the sole Republican running in the district, does not have to spend for a primary campaign.

"The key is for a candidate is to spend enough to get out a basic message, not to try to outspend the other candidate dollar for dollar. Many outspent candidates still win because of incumbency, party balance and coattails," said Sabato.