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Friday, November 21, 2008

Will MD 6th District Ever Turn Blue?

George Wenschhof

In spite of all the elements present that make up a "perfect storm", Democrats were unable to win in the Maryland sixth district congressional race. The elements of a national economy in the dumps with portions of the sixth district hurting worse than other parts of Maryland, along with an extremely popular Democratic candidate Barack Obama for President, had no effect in the outcome.

Republican incumbent Roscoe Bartlett, at age 82, easily won reelection with 57.8% of the vote. He will now enter his ninth term in office since beating Democratic candidate Thomas Hattery in 1992.

Former one term Mayor of the City of Frederick, Jennifer Dougherty with 38.8% fared no better than the Andrew Duck, the Democratic candidate in 2006. Mr. Duck ran again in 2008 and was defeated by Dougherty 44% to 37% in a crowded Democratic primary.

After the win by Democrat Frank Kratovil in the first district, seven of the eight Congressional districts in Maryland are now represented by Democrats.

Although Frederick County Democrats can rejoice in the huge increase in vote for President-elect Barack Obama over Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, Obama had no coattails for Dougherty. Both Gore and Kerry received 40% of the vote in Frederick County while Obama received 49%.

Dougherty meanwhile, received 44.8% of the Frederick county vote, the same received by Andrew Duck in 2006.

One of the biggest problems Democratic candidates have faced in the sixth district, in addition to voter registration that favors Republicans, has been the inability to raise the funds necessary to effectively compete against a long term incumbent in a district that comprises all or parts of eight different counties.

The 10-15-2008 financial report showed Ms. Dougherty had raised $123,155 and spent $118,341. Two weeks before Election day, her cash on hand was $4,815. That number will go up somewhat when the final reports are filed.

Congressman Bartlett had raised $286,982 and spent $111,332 according to the 10-15-2008 financial report. With an ongoing campaign account his cash on hand was $372,886.

When I asked Bob Kresslein, chair of the Frederick County State Democratic Central Committee about the sixth district outcome, he acknowledged the inability to raise funds was a factor in the outcome of the recent election. ".....Unfortunately, it is clear that while Jennifer had decent name recognition in Frederick County, she remained a relative unknown in the balance of the district and did not have the financial resources to change that dynamic......".

The only time a Democratic candidate has raised significant money since Bartlett was elected in 1992, was Stephen Crawford in the 1996 election. In that election, he raised over $400,000 which allowed him to have paid campaign staff.

Interestingly, in that election, Crawford also received the highest vote total (43%) of any Democrat since 1992. I remember one of the discussions at the time was whether Mr. Crawford had spent too much money on staff and not kept enough on hand for the final direct mail, radio and TV media push at the end.

Another thought held by some Democrats is a second run by a candidate in the district will produce better results due to increased name recognition. Unfortunately, past results show the opposite, as a well qualified candidate who would have been a great congressman, Don DeArmon fared worse in his second race in 2002 after receiving 39% of the vote in 2000.

Then, this year Andrew Duck was defeated in the Democratic primary after receiving 38.4% of the vote in the 2006 election.

More effective representation is needed in the Maryland sixth district and a Democrat can win. However, the ability to raise needed funds to effectively campaign in a tough district for Democrats remains a requirement for the candidate.


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