Funding gaps narrow in bids for Congress

2nd, 8th District fights may be tantalizingly close

Bentley outraises Ruppersberger

Van Hollen leads in poll, trails Morella in cash

Election 2002

October 16, 2002|By Jeff Barker and Andrew A. Green | Jeff Barker and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Maryland's two hottest congressional races are becoming tighter in fund raising, suggesting the contests will remain tantalizingly close to the finish.

In Montgomery County, the nation's most expensive House contest continues to attract imposing sums from inside and outside the district, the momentum slowed only by the terrible distraction of the serial sniper.

Democrat Christopher Van Hollen Jr., depleted of campaign cash after winning a four-candidate primary, has been replenishing his reserves recently at a rate of $20,000 per day as he bids to unseat eight-term Republican Constance A. Morella.

Boosted by a poll showing him slightly ahead, Van Hollen - with the help of party bigwigs - is closing the fund-raising gap on Morella, who still has significantly more cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records released yesterday.

In the Baltimore area's 2nd District, Republican Helen Delich Bentley raised more money than her Democratic opponent, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, for the first time in their race. In the reporting period from Aug. 22 through Sept. 30, she collected about $255,000 to his $219,000.

Since the campaign started last spring, Ruppersberger has raised about $855,000 to her $589,000, but he also spent more, putting them roughly equal in cash on hand, as of the reporting deadline.

Bentley's report, however, does not include expenditures for the television ads she has been running during the past two weeks promoting her record on protecting the port of Baltimore and her associations with incumbent Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is giving up the seat to run for governor, and President Bush.

Ruppersberger ran ads in August and last month when he was fending off a strong primary challenge from businessman Oz Bengur, but his campaign has not paid for television time since then. Advertisements plugging his record on senior issues and the environment were paid for by the Democratic Party, not his campaign.

The Washington-area 8th District seat - considered critical by both parties in the battle for control of the House - is being contested as a manhunt continues for a sniper believed responsible for nine deaths, including five in Montgomery County.

Washington news media coverage has tilted away from the election as the shootings have continued, and TV stations have bumped some campaign ads. The candidates have modified their appearance schedules as festivals and other community-sponsored outdoor gatherings have been scrapped.

Last week, Van Hollen was forced to cancel a series of campaign appearances by House members at Metro stops when the U.S. Capitol Police raised security concerns. The campaign also reports a drop-off in volunteers willing to go door to door with a sniper on the loose.

"This has affected the campaign at the margins," said Steve Jost, Van Hollen's campaign manager.

However, a weekend fund-raiser featuring former Vice President Al Gore went on as scheduled, raising about $100,000.

Morella was unopposed in the primary and able to conserve most of her cash for the Nov. 5 election. She began the general election campaign with about $1.6 million in the bank, compared with Van Hollen's $100,000.

Van Hollen's reserves were low enough that he lent the campaign $25,000 on Sept. 9. He earlier lent $125,000 of his money.

But Van Hollen outraised Morella, $604,213 to $242,348, during the period covered by the latest FEC filings. He was aided by fund-raising appeals made on his behalf by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He has also received more than $25,000 in individual contributions during the campaign from members of his law firm, Arent Fox.

Van Hollen and Morella have received large checks from their parties since the campaign began. He reported getting $5,446 in contributions and in-kind services from the DCCC. She said she received $9,098 from the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Morella had $1.6 million on hand as of Sept. 30, compared with Van Hollen's $504,252. Aided by Gore, Van Hollen's campaign said it has raised more than $300,000 since the reporting deadline.

Polls show the Baltimore-area race is just as close as the one in the 8th District, and the seat is just as crucial in the battle to control Congress. But both campaigns said yesterday that they are surprised that this race has been so much less rancorous - and less expensive - than Morella-Van Hollen.

Ruppersberger's campaign manager, Jim Cauley, said the lack of Republican response to the Democratic Party's expenditures in the race leads him to conclude that Bentley's campaign isn't as important to national Republicans as they say.

Bentley's campaign manager, Michael S. Kosmas, said he thinks the Republicans are just "keeping their powder dry" for the last few weeks of the campaign. The Democrats started spending early, Kosmas speculated, because of the beating Ruppersberger took from Bengur in campaign ads.

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