Kratovil leaving without regrets

Freshman Democrat lone House member from Maryland to lose this year

November 04, 2010|By Paul West, The Baltimore Sun

Rep. Frank Kratovil, the only Maryland incumbent in Congress unseated in this week's election, says he has no regrets about the way he did his job or ran his campaign.

In an interview Thursday, the Eastern Shore Democrat said his district's strong Republican tilt made winning extremely difficult in a year that favored Republican candidates.

"From the outset, we knew it was going to be tough," said Kratovil, who was soundly defeated by Republican challenger Andy Harris of Baltimore County. "In the end, the national mood against the Democrats, against the president and the speaker [of the House, Nancy Pelosi] trickled down to my race."

According to unofficial results from the Maryland State Board of Elections, Harris won by a margin of 35,000 votes or 14 percentage points.

Two years ago, Kratovil edged out Harris by fewer than 3,000 votes. At the same time, Republican presidential nominee John McCain was defeating Barack Obama by 19 percent in the district, which covers the entire Eastern Shore and Republican-leaning portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

On Tuesday, the national forces that returned Republicans to power in the House struck with a vengeance in Maryland's easternmost district. It became one of 22 Republican seats (out of 28) captured by Democrats in 2008 that went back to the Republicans.

Kratovil also became part of another trend: He was one of more than 20 defeated fiscal conservatives from the Blue Dog caucus, whose membership was cut in half, leaving a shrunken House Democratic caucus more liberal than before.

In all, at least $8 million was spent on the 1st District race, one of the most expensive House contests in Maryland history. Kratovil and groups allied with his candidacy outspent Harris and his supporters by about $1 million.

Kratovil was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which liked his vote against the health care overhaul and put $437,000 behind his candidacy, more than the business lobby spent on behalf of any other House Democrat in the nation.

During his single term, Kratovil compiled a moderate voting record that is closer to the center than other Marylanders in Congress but was unable to satisfy a restive electorate.

"The irony is, I was criticized for [voting in favor of] the stimulus, the energy bill and others, and I'm willing to take the hits for those," he said. "But it's very, very difficult to make the argument that I haven't been an independent guy. It just wasn't enough."

Kratovil did say he wonders whether he should have aired a campaign commercial responding to the main Republican attack leveled against him — that he was a puppet for Pelosi, using a yardstick he regards as "bogus."

This week's election was no exception to the rule that midterm contests draw fewer voters than presidential ones.

Harris, in avenging his 2008 defeat, came closer to matching his vote total from two years ago than other Maryland congressional candidates. Kratovil's vote, meantime, slipped by more than one-third, roughly the same as incumbent Democrats facing only token opposition and not nearly enough to make him competitive at the finish.

As part of Harris' comeback strategy, the veteran Republican state senator devoted considerable time and attention to the Eastern Shore. It paid off handsomely.

Harris won the Shore, including Kratovil's home county, by a total of 8,000 votes, after losing it by 25,000 last time. Meantime, Kratovil's support fell off more sharply on the Shore than in the part of the district west of the Chesapeake Bay.

In the interview, Kratovil said he didn't think there was much more he could have done to change the outcome.

He lost, he said, despite gaining the endorsement of "every single paper in the district, not only saying that I've done a very good job in representing the district but also, some of them, being very critical of my opponent."

He had backing, too, from such traditionally conservative groups as the Fraternal Order of Police and National Rifle Association.

The 42-year-old father of five, who previously served as Queen Anne's County prosecutor, said he has made no decision about what he'll do next.

Along with the rest of Congress, he's returning to Washington this month for a lame-duck session that is expected to extend the Bush tax cuts and keep the federal government funded until midwinter.

He isn't ruling out a return to politics, including another run for Congress in 2012, after House district lines are redrawn. After a single congressional term, he said, he still believes the country needs "much less grandstanding and more problem-solving."

"If we really want to solve the issues that we have and deal with these problems, I do think we need people on both sides of the aisle that are going to be interested in actually finding solutions," said Kratovil. "As a congressman or U.S. senator, ultimately, you have to recognize that the job is to solve problems. We shouldn't be focusing on issues that are the ones that are simply chosen to divide people or to rally a particular segment of the population that is important politically."

paul.west@baltsun.com

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