Thank you for visiting our website

Featuring breaking political news and commentary on local, state, and national issues.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

MD 6th District - "A Perfect Storm"?

George Wenschhof

In Maryland, six of the eight congressional districts are considered "safe Democrat" seats. The other two districts, (the 1st and the 6th) have demographics that favor Republicans, made even more so, after the redistricting in 2002. Interestingly, in the Democratic primary earlier this year, Senator Clinton only carried two districts, the first and the sixth. Senator Obama won the other six districts and the state handily.

In the first district, Republican state senator Andrew Harris upset incumbent moderate Republican Wayne Gilchrist in the primary. This has created a lot of attention as this seat is now considered an open seat. Frank Kratovil, Queen Anne County State's Attorney, is the Democratic challenger.

He has received the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) which is significant for it means huge financial assistance to his campaign. His is one of 37 seats targeted by the DCCC on their "Red to Blue" List.

Kratovil has also shown the ability to raise campaign funds as is evident in his June 30 campaign finance report. His total raised to date is 789,876 and his cash on hand is 454,027. The Federal Election Commission has a breakdown of the report here.

He is going to need the DCCC help for his Republican opponent, state senator Andrew Harris has raised a total of 1,903,295 with 609,483 cash on hand. Read his FEC report here. Remember, Harris spent heavily to upset moderate Republican incumbent Gilchrist in the primary.

Over in the sixth district, eight term incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett does not seem fazed at all with the Democrat challenger, Jennifer Dougherty or with Gary Hoover a new convert to the Libertarian Party. Hoover is not expected to receive any significant votes and should not be a factor in this race.

Dougherty, who after running for office unsuccessfully on several occasions, won in 2001 for Mayor of The City of Frederick. Her term was marred by constant partisan infighting with the Board of Aldermen resulting in her defeat in the Democratic primary when she ran for reelection.

Many Democratic voters were upset she did not publicly support former Mayor Ron Young who won that Democratic primary in 2005. Some speculated she encouraged her supporters to vote for the Republican candidate for Mayor, Jeff Holtzinger. Holtzinger narrowly won that election and is the Mayor today in the City of Frederick.

Two years after being defeated in the City of Frederick Democratic mayoral primary, she decided to run again for political office. This time for the Maryland House seat in the sixth district. The Democratic field had five candidates, including Andrew Duck, the 6th district Democratic nominee in 2006. In a crowded field, Dougherty won the Democratic nomination by a plurality, garnering 44% to Duck's 37%.

Unity has become the theme among Democratic Party national leadership after a hard fought primary between Senators Obama and Clinton to be the Democratic Party nominee for President. It will be interesting to watch if this has any trickle down effect on the congressional race in the 6th district. Andrew Duck has exhibited a lot of class, publicly endorsing Dougherty and even sending her campaign a sizable donation.

While, the Maryland Democratic Party has offered verbal support and a staff position paid by the DNC for the region, the DCCC has not included this seat as part of their current targeted 37 "Red to Blue" seats.

One of the reasons for lack of DCCC support is the highest percentage of vote a Democrat has won in the last eight elections was by Stephen Crawford who raised over 400K and received 43% of the vote in 1996. That was also prior to the 2002 redistricting. Here is a link to a column I wrote prior to the election in 2006 which includes some history of past elections in the sixth district.

Another reason for lack of support by the DCCC has been Dougherty's inability to raise needed funds for a competitive campaign. As of June 30, the end of the second quarter, the Dougherty campaign had raised 87,152 and had 41,194 cash on hand. The Federal Election Commission has a breakdown of the report here.

The Bartlett campaign had raised 191,958 and had 264,174 cash on hand. Read his report here.

Although fundraising is not her strength, one thing you can be assured Jennifer will do is campaign hard. She is going to have to, for the sixth district contains all or parts of eight different counties. This makes it impossible for any effective door-to-door effort, other than if it is used for media show and tell purposes.

Which is why campaign funds are so important in this race. A Democratic challenger needs 500K to compete against a eight term incumbent, regardless of how ineffective he has been. A challenger can not depend on free media alone.

Dougherty is finding that out as the only reporting by media has been on her request for debates and one column from a sympathetic columnist saying Jennifer has changed to a nicer and warmer person. Hardly enough to convince voters across the sixth district to support her.

Meanwhile, her opponent wins the free media exchange by directly intervening on behalf of residents on a current issue pertaining to the unwanted planned placement of a natural gas compressor station in their neighborhood.

The question isn't whether Dougherty will receive 40-43% of the vote - she will, as did most of the other Democratic challengers in the last eight elections. The question is how is she going to win. Not only does she have to win the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats in the district, she has to win a majority of Independents along with a higher Republican cross-over vote.

The major way to get information to the voters in the sixth district is direct mail and by cable TV. Debates do little to influence the voters as few attend and the reporting is limited to local media - there is no media that covers the entire district. Further complicating the cable effort, the district is served by three different cable providers. This takes considerable money to utilize these communication tools effectively.

However, many times, campaigns are won by being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes, the moon and the stars are aligned in just the right manner. This may be one of those times. The national economy continues to tank with Dow Jones losses in June being the most in that month since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Voters connect economic woes with incumbents and the overwhelming trend is to vote change.

The majority of the Independents who have in the past voted Republican are now looking seriously at options. They are tired of the rhetoric and what they want is results.

In order to be competitive, Dougherty needs to connect with the voters on the issues that mean most to them. A failing economy, rising energy costs, lack of health care, and unaffordable commutes are hitting working families hard.

Coupled with the misguided foreign policy of the Republican George W. Bush administration, it is clear voters want a change in Washington. This is why the Obama campaign is inspiring so many new voters to get involved.

There is still time for the Dougherty campaign to connect with the voters on the issues that matter the most to them. Although, her campaign funds are not at a competitive level, she can still hit home with these core issues.

Will a Democratic representative be returned to the sixth district and this become known as the year of the "perfect storm"?

In November, Obama at the top of the ticket will need to do better in the sixth district than he did in the primary, Democrats will need to turn out in record numbers in support of Dougherty, Independents will need to vote Democrat, and some Republicans will have to jump ship.

It could happen - 16 years of ineffective representation is too long for the voters in the sixth district.

But don't count on it. The more likely scenario is a bit of tightening in the race.

The best shot of a Democratic pick up of a House seat in Maryland remains in the first district and that won't be easy.

Stay Tuned.

No comments: