The race for the 8th Congressional District seat in Montgomery County is on pace to be one of the most expensive in the nation, with the incumbent and her two challengers having raised more than $1 million each, financial disclosure reports filed yesterday show.
While candidates in Baltimore County's 2nd District haven't been able to match those figures, fund raising in that race - which got under way three months ago - has also gotten off to a healthy start, with County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger reporting more than $460,000 in donations, more than twice as much as the leading Republican, former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley.
The two races are among a handful nationwide that are expected to determine which party controls the House of Representatives. National political attention - and funds - have poured into both.
In the 8th, Rep. Constance A. Morella stepped up fund raising during the past three months as she faces what is expected to be her most serious challenge since she was first elected in 1986.
Morella, a liberal Republican representing a district that is heavily Democratic, has raised about $1.7 million this year - including $955,000 during the past three months. Not facing any primary challenge, Morella has more than $1.5 million in the bank.
Highlighting the seat's importance to Republicans, President Bush helped raise $400,000 for Morella at an event last month.
Three of the Democrats vying for Morella's seat have raised enough to rank among the top 10 challengers in the nation in campaign dollars.
State Del. Mark K. Shriver has raised almost $2.3 million, according to his campaign. That includes about $622,000 during the past three months, leaving him with about $1.7 million on hand.
"The Republicans will spend whatever it takes to keep this seat in the `R' column," said Shriver campaign spokesman Kim Elliott.
State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. reported collecting $222,000 during the past three months - breaking the $1 million mark for the campaign and leaving him with $800,000 on hand. That includes a $125,000 loan he's made to his campaign.
Ira Shapiro, a former Clinton trade administration official, has raised about $721,000 for the campaign and has about $363,000 on hand. The $237,000 he raised during the past three months includes a $100,000 personal loan.
A fourth challenger, lawyer Deborah A. Vollmer, has pledged not to raise more than $5,000, the amount that would require her to file campaign finance reports.
In the 2nd District, Ruppersberger, a Democrat, has collected $463,100 and has spent about $55,000, leaving him with $407,600 in cash on hand. In the same period, Bentley, a Republican, raised $188,895 and spent $21,151, leaving her with $167,744.
Investment banker Oz Bengur, who is competing with Ruppersberger in the Democratic primary, has collected $153,088 in donations in the past three months.
Combined with $290,000 of his own money he contributed to the campaign and a handful of donations from earlier in the year, he has raised more than $450,000. He has also spent more than any of the other candidates in his race - $135,086 in the past three months - leaving him with $319,696.
"I would be willing to bet Dutch raised more than anybody in this quarter, other than Mark Shriver and maybe two other people," said Jim Cauley, Ruppersberger's campaign manager. "Short of that, that quarter is as good as any open seat in the country."
Michael S. Kosmas, managing director of the Bentley campaign, said he isn't concerned about the gap between his candidate and Ruppersberger. He pointed out that Bentley entered the campaign five weeks before the filing deadline and hadn't sent out a mass mailing to solicit funds.
"For us, these numbers are great," Kosmas said. "This is just calling people quickly and saying, `Help us get off the ground.' "
Bentley's finance report shows that she has raised significant amounts of money from senior Republican members of Congress seeking to maintain their party's hold on the House leadership.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican, gave $10,000 from his Keep Our Majority PAC. Leadership PAC 2002, whose chairman is Rep. Michael G. Oxley, an Ohio Republican, gave $5,000. So did the Freedom Project PAC, headed by Rep. John H. Boehner, also an Ohio Republican. The Bayou Leader PAC, run by Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Louisiana Republican, gave $4,000.
"It only goes to show her strength in this race," said Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Campaign Committee.
Ruppersberger has also attracted the interest of the national party. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has endorsed him over Bengur, and members of the Democratic leadership are helping him raise funds.