Eight challengers face tough battles against incumbents

Members have advantage with recognition, money

`Running against the reputation'

6 Democrats, 2 in GOP seek to hold onto seats

Races for U.S. House

Election 2004

October 28, 2004|By David Schoetz and Kimberly A.C. Wilson | David Schoetz and Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A Marine, a lawyer and a State Department veteran. A pair of businessmen and a former congressional staffer. A lobbyist and an elected court clerk.

The eight challengers to Maryland's sitting House members have varied resumes, each with strengths. But the group resides in a shadow of anonymity. They compete against established House members - six Democrats and two Republicans - who are experienced and better known, and have far deeper pockets.

Longevity counts in politics. House freshmen face a learning curve. With each term, they maneuver into more influential positions on their committees, and constituents often see the spoils.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's editions about Maryland congressional races misspelled the name of Kenneth T. Bosley, the Democratic candidate from the 6th District.
The Sun regrets the error.

Maryland's most senior House member - the 5th District's Steny H. Hoyer - is also the state's most powerful, serving as the Democratic whip and as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. The 12-term Southern Maryland representative doesn't get a free ride every two years, but in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, his opponents are taking on a Goliath.

"We have a Republican governor in Annapolis and a Republican Congress," said Hoyer's challenger, Brad Jewitt, who stepped down last year as mayor of Berwyn Heights when he was recalled to active Marine duty. "Who's going to be able to make things happen for the people of Southern Maryland?"

This rallying cry - that Maryland is growing more conservative - is common among the state's six Republican challengers, including Robert P. Duckworth, Anne Arundel County's clerk of the court, who is running against Benjamin L. Cardin in the 3rd District.

But Duckworth's campaign manager, Carrie Geldart, conceded that a little-known Republican battling a nine-term House member like Cardin - whose district snakes through chunks of Baltimore and Howard counties, and bits of Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City - means a stacked deck.

"When you're in Maryland and you're running against an established Democrat - and he's no Steny Hoyer, but the man has been in public service his whole life - you're going to have a difficult race," Geldart said.

In recent years, congressional incumbents have won more than 95 percent of their races, and, Geldart said, the two parties recruit only the most promising challengers when the time is right.

Chris Van Hollen ousted popular Republican Constance A. Morella two years ago, but he was hardly an unknown, having served four years in the Maryland House and eight years in the state Senate. Van Hollen, who represents most of Montgomery County and a sliver of Prince George's County in the 8th District, and the 2nd District's C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger are the state's only first-term House members - which Van Hollen's opponent, Chuck Floyd, views as an opportunity.

Floyd, who managed construction projects for the State Department, has pumped more than $200,000 of his own money into his campaign. He also made headlines in The Washington Post this month when he created three Web sites containing Van Hollen's name and linked the sites to attacks on his opponent.

According to Floyd's campaign manager, David Byrd, the stunt achieved its desired effect: Publicity does not come cheap or easy for challengers, and Floyd's Web site received 20 times as many hits as usual the day after the story ran.

The challenger has also raised questions about Van Hollen's political aspirations, saying that the $1.5 million dollars he's raised, second only to Hoyer, proves that the 45-year-old freshman is looking beyond the House. Byrd said Van Hollen has been "stockpiling" money for a Senate run in 2006 if five-term incumbent Paul S. Sarbanes retires. "He's not really interested in being a congressman," Byrd said of Van Hollen.

Even though they knew from the start the fund-raising obstacles they faced, the challengers said that competing against an incumbent's funding still grows frustrating.

Republican Jane Brooks, a former Ehrlich congressional staffer and the only female major party candidate in these races, is running in the 2nd District, which covers much of Harford and Baltimore counties, touches Baltimore's border and spills into Anne Arundel County. Brooks has less than 2 percent of the $153,187 that her opponent, Ruppersberger, has to spend before the election, and while the incumbent has received $260,000 from political action committees, Brooks has received $75 from PACs.

John McKinnis, the founder of an information technology business in Beltsville, faces a similar problem in the 4th District, which connects Prince George's County to a portion of Montgomery County, as Democrat Albert R. Wynn's campaign has $400,000 in PAC funding.

PACs "don't want to help you unless you can prove to them you can raise a six-digit figure," Brooks said. "But if I had six figures, I wouldn't need them."

Like her fellow challengers, Brooks said she will continue to rely on grass-roots campaign strategies - including sign waving, literature drops and going door to door in an effort to build exposure before the election.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.