Democrats are expected to expand their majorities in the House and Senate this year. While Maryland has long seemed an unlikely place for the party to make gains, national Democratic leaders believe that the current political climate has improved their prospects here.
Democratic prosecutor Frank Kratovil is mounting a strong challenge to GOP state Sen. Andy Harris in the Eastern Shore-based district left open by the Republican primary defeat of longtime Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. National analysts have called the race a toss-up.
Assuming that the state's current members of Congress win re-election, a Kratovil victory would give Democrats seven of Maryland's eight House seats. Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, a Democrat facing a tough fight against Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in Western Maryland, is trying for a clean sweep. Challengers in the districts with incumbents face a daunting task. Each trails significantly in fundraising and, in all but the Bartlett district, name recognition. But several said they felt duty-bound to give voters a choice.
Here is a look at the state's congressional races, district by district.
district 1 The Harris-Kratovil contest turns into a tight one, with rancorous exchanges in the TV advertisements
1st Congressional District
Maryland's most competitive congressional race pits Republican Andy Harris, who defeated incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest in a bitterly fought primary, against Frank M. Kratovil, a Democrat who has cast himself as a moderate in Gilchrest's mold.
Ordinarily, the district, which joins the Eastern Shore with portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, would be easy for the GOP. But with the national party's fortunes fading and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee planning to spend more than $1 million to back Kratovil, Harris finds himself in a contest that has grown unexpectedly tight.
Harris, a 51-year-old anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins who has spent 10 years in the Maryland Senate, talks about cutting taxes, promoting domestic oil production and eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. He says he would promote cooperation among the several states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to clean up the estuary and backs health insurance programs that would be "more personal, more accessible, more affordable and more portable."
Kratovil, the 40-year-old state's attorney for Queen Anne's County, wants to increase federal oversight of financial markets, change tax policy to "focus on the middle class" and end deficit spending. He talks about a need to "overhaul" energy policy "with both short-term goals that reduce the price of gas at the pumps but also long-term goals that move us towards renewable energy and away from our dependence on foreign oil."
A point on which the candidates appear to agree: Harris says voters are tired of "politics as usual," and Kratovil says progress depends on dialing back the "extreme partisan nature" of the discourse in Washington.
If they mean it, they are off to an inauspicious start. Voters are complaining about a rancorous campaign, fueled by the $2.6 million raised by Harris and $1.4 million by Kratovil, plus spending by outside groups . A Harris television ad calls Kratovil "clueless, liberal and very wrong," while a Kratovil spot says: "Andy Harris: His ideas are just way out there."
district 2 Ruppersberger calls for dialing down the partisanship as Matthews champions libertarianism
2nd Congressional District
With his party poised to expand its majorities in the House and Senate, the man who is arguably the most moderate Democrat in Maryland's congressional delegation is concerned about the tone in Washington.
"I would like to see less partisan politics," said C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a three-term congressman from Baltimore County. "We need to work, both Democrats and Republicans, as Americans first and make sure that we work together to resolve the issues."
On the campaign trail, Ruppersberger, 62, points to his positions on the House Appropriations Committee, which he has used to secure money to prepare for the expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, and as head of an intelligence subcommittee.
Congress needs to make progress, he says, on the issues that have been piling up: energy independence, health care, the economy.
"There needs to be strong leadership on immigration," he added. "It's tearing our country apart, and we have to put it to rest."
Ruppersberger was re-elected in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote.
When it looked as if he might run unopposed this year, Richard Matthews stepped up.
"I looked at his record a little harder and decided I couldn't really agree with him on anything," said Matthews, who has collected $10,653 to go against Ruppersberger's $987,000 in fundraising. The 28-year-old computer systems engineer described himself as a "liberty-minded Republican" who opposed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and favors a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2009.