Local races aren't costly

Candidates run for office without raising big money

Politics on the cheap

Expensive media ads not necessary in a small county

Howard County

November 14, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As the cost of political campaigns spirals ever higher, the tab for running in Howard County - one of Maryland's wealthiest - seems dirt cheap.

These days, raising huge sums early is the trend - and as politically intimidating as playing football against middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

But while undeclared gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has raised $4.4 million, Howard County Executive James N. Robey is plotting his re-election campaign after raising $37,500. He's got $26,000 in cash on hand.

That's just a bit more than the $17,000 balance reported by Kenneth S. Ulman, a 26-year-old lawyer running for west Columbia's County Council seat.

"Are you kidding? Oh, my goodness," exclaimed Frank Hajek, treasurer for Harford County Executive James M. Harkins, who reported having $167,000 on hand.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has $165,000, and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Baltimore County - mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate - has more than $1.5 million in the bank, according to recent campaign finance report filings.

Robey is not worried, though, he said.

"Maybe he [Harkins] can loan me some money," the former police chief joked.

"I'm not taking anything for granted here," he said about his expected re-election campaign.

"If someone steps on the scene from another party and they start mounting a campaign, then I better start ratcheting things up. Until then, I've got the job of running the government." Robey raised $120,600 in his first campaign.

"I think he's right. He's absolutely on target," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a Columbia Democrat.

GOP estimate: $200,000

County Republicans, who are searching for a candidate to oppose Robey, are encouraged by his restrained fund raising, they said, while Democrats said their party leader is on solid political ground in low-spending Howard County.

"That's shocking," said Howard Republican Party Chairman Louis M. Pope, about Robey's total.

Pope said he is talking with several potential candidates for county executive - a campaign he estimates likely would cost up to $200,000 for a "full-scale" effort.

"We're working hard to get that perfect person to run against Jim Robey. My goal is to have every single [ballot] slot filled prior to the end of the year. I do believe next year will be a good Republican year," Pope said.

"It's just puzzling to me that he didn't take the opportunity of being an incumbent county executive to fill the coffers," said pollster and former Republican Party official Carol Arscott. "Being county executive is sort of a license to raise money."

But Democrats said Robey is much better known than he was during his first campaign, remains popular and has no opposition so far from any quarter.

Harkins had a spirited Democratic primary in 1998 and may have another brewing, Hajek said.

Herbert Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College in Westminster, called Robey's tally "a minimal amount" for a sitting county executive.

`A fairly confident candidate'

But Smith noted that "fund raising reflects their [candidates] read on political reality. It would seem indicative of a fairly confident candidate."

Democrats said Robey holds all the cards.

"He has wide name recognition," said Neil Quinter, president of the Columbia Democratic Club. "No one of any weight is going to challenge Jim in the primary."

And although having a small campaign fund "is more likely to encourage opposition, Jim is not a typical politician and it works for him," Quinter said.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat and former Howard County executive who lost a bid for re-election in 1990, said Robey "is in a very good position to raise money when he decides to. I don't think it's a problem at all. It's a wise strategy to not be up there raising money," she said.

"I would love to see a law that we couldn't raise money until the year before an election," Bobo added.

Howard County just isn't big-budget territory for politicians, said House minority leader and Howard Del. Robert H. Kittleman, a Republican who has only $5,536 on hand.

Modest expenses

Candidates in Howard don't need money for expensive television and radio ads because the county is small.

"Howard County never works that way. We don't do the big numbers," said Kittleman, who travels the state trying to recruit Republican candidates. "You've gotta have some [money], but you don't have to have an awful lot."

Robey, Kittleman said, has had "no calamities on his watch," and "he attends a lot of stuff. The incumbent has a big advantage. He's probably coasting on that."

And retiring Republican state Sen. Martin G. Madden suggested that if Robey had raised a huge amount, it could have been used against him.

On the gubernatorial level, where Maryland Republicans are at a distinct disadvantage, Madden said "those large amounts of money can be made an issue of."

$40,000 for House seat

According to a study of the 1998 Maryland election by the Center for American Politics and Citizenship, an average House of Delegates campaign cost $40,000, and a Senate campaign cost $81,300. Democrats averaged double what Republicans spent to run for the House, and about 60 percent more than what GOP candidate for Senate spent.

Ulman, who has raised far more than the $4,300 his friend, County Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, has on hand, said money is required, even in reform-minded Howard County.

"I don't know how much money it will take. I fully anticipate a competitive primary and general election," Ulman said. Raising money, he said, will allow him to get his name out, and is also "an important barometer for me to measure support."

"I don't think anybody likes the system, but it's the system we have."

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