1st Dist.: Harris Ousts Incumbent Kratovil in Rematch of 2008

November 3, 2010

By Lou Peck
Contributing Editor, Cecil Times/ National Journal

Despite a seven-figure financial effort by national Democrats to rescue him, freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil went down to defeat Tuesday in a rematch of his 2008 contest against GOP state Sen. Andy Harris.

With more than 90 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday, Harris held a 54-42 percent lead over Kratovil, for a margin of more than 30,000 votes.

In 2008, Kratovil — then the state’s attorney in Queen Anne’s County — defeated Harris by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 360,000 cast. He became the first Democrat to win the district – which includes the entire Eastern Shore along with portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties on the Western Shore – in two decades.

Kratovil’s 2008 victory came despite the fact that Republican presidential nominee John McCain captured the district by a 59-40 percent margin over President Obama. But Kratovil triumphed by capturing every county on the Eastern Shore.

It was a very different story Tuesday: A partial breakdown of Eastern Shore counties showed two of the most populous going to Harris. The Republican won Cecil County by a 55-40 percent margin, and took Kratovil’s home turf of Queen Anne’s County by a 51-46 percent edge.

Harris clearly benefited from a nationwide Republican tide in which at least 19 Democrats representing districts that McCain won in 2008 found themselves ousted – as the Republicans regained the House majority they lost four years ago.

But Kratovil was the only significant Democratic casualty in traditionally “blue” Maryland, as voters re-elected all other incumbents in the state’s House delegation. The delegation will now feature a 6-2 Democratic majority, down from 7-1 – with Harris and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, whose 6th District includes the state’s westernmost counties, the only Republicans.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski was handily re-elected over Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Eric Wargotz by a 60-38 percent margin statewide, although Wargotz won Cecil County by 53-44 percent.

While the bills are still coming in for this year’s 1st District contest, it appears that in excess of $4 million in independent expenditures were made by party committees and outside groups in an effort to influence the outcome of the Harris-Kratovil race. This is on top of the $4 million that the Kratovil and Harris campaign committees themselves had reported spending through the middle of October…

According to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, Maryland’s 1st ranks 10th among all House districts nationwide in terms of so-called independent expenditures by political party committees and other interest groups this year.

About $1.5 million of the independent expenditure effort came from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and was intended to boost Kratovil by running attack ads against Harris.

Given his narrow win in 2008 and the Republican tilt of the district, Kratovil was considered among the most vulnerable House incumbents in the country when the general election began. But the DCCC grew more hopeful of retaining the seat as the campaign wore on, and invested an amount that was several times what had originally been budgeted for this contest.

As Kratovil became a key element in Democrats’ uphill bid to hold on to a House majority, he received fundraising help from Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton — despite a voting record that included opposition to several major party initiatives. In fact, Kratovil ran ads boasting of vote ratings that showed him to be one of the most independent members of the House, and pointing to his vote against the Democrats’ signature achievement of the past Congress – the health care reform bill.

For its part, the DCCC’s counterpart – the National Republican Congressional Committee – plowed nearly $850,000 into ads seeking to tie Kratovil to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These ads repeatedly cited Kratovil’s support of the final version of the White House’s $700 million economic stimulus bill – he voted against an earlier version – and his vote for controversial “cap and trade” legislation designed to combat global warming.

Harris’ narrow loss to Kratovil two years ago came after a bitter primary in which he ousted long-time GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest. Rather than support Harris, who has crafted a record as a hardline conservative in the Maryland Legislature, the politically moderate Gilchrest bolted the Republican Party to endorse Kratovil in 2008 and again this year.

Two years ago, Harris won his home base in Baltimore and Harford counties, and carried the portion of the district that lies in Anne Arundel County. In an effort to make inroads in the Eastern Shore counties this time around, Harris – an anesthesiologist long associated with Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore – set up a part-time practice in a hospital in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore.

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