MD 1st: Outsiders’ Spending at $4 million as Kratovil-Harris Race Wraps Up

November 2, 2010

By Lou Peck
Contributing Editor, Cecil Times/ National Journal

In the hotly contested rematch in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District between Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil and GOP state Sen. Andy Harris, the barrage of TV attack ads continued as voters went to the polls Tuesday-– with spending by outside groups seeking to influence the race topping $4 million.

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

In the closing days of the campaign, two environmental groups – Environment America and League of Conservation Voters – invested almost $40,000 in get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of Kratovil, while the American Society of Anesthesiologists paid $50,000 for a late mailer to boost Harris, an anesthesiologist by profession. Earlier in the campaign, the same group underwrote more than $200,000 worth of pro-Harris TV and radio ads.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last week sunk another $45,000 into its effort to boost Kratovil through attack ads aimed at Harris, bringing its investment in Maryland’s 1st to more than $1.5 million.

It’s unclear how much the DCCC paid for a mailer in the closing days of the campaign that critics charged was an attempt to peel off votes from Harris by boosting Libertarian Party candidate Richard Davis. The front of the flier links Davis to the Tea Party, while the back of the flier asks “Richard Davis: Is he too conservative?”

The DCCC has utilized similar mailers in other close races across the country this year, while publicly sidestepping charges that it is seeking to split the opposition vote. “Voters deserve to know Richard Davis is an extremist,” a DCCC spokesman told the Washington Post when asked about the 1st District mailing.

The DCCC’s counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, spent nearly $850,000 in the course of the campaign. While Kratovil ran ads boasting of his independence from the national Democratic leadership and his opposition to the controversial health care reform bill, the NRCC ads sought to undercut those claims by linking the incumbent to President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The district includes the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties on the Western Shore. Kratovil won the district by 3,000 votes in 2008 as Republican presidential nominee John McCain was carrying it with 59 percent over Obama.

A poll released early last week by the Baltimore Sun showed the contest in a dead heat, 40 percent to 40 percent, with Kratovil, a Queen Anne’s County resident, ahead on the Eastern Shore and Harris, who lives in Baltimore County, leading in the Western Shore section of the district. Since his loss in 2008, Harris has sought to extend his Eastern Shore ties by practicing anesthesiology on a part-time basis at a hospital in Salisbury.

In addition to the $4 million spent by outside groups, Harris and Kratovil had spent another $4 million through their own campaign committees through the middle of October, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.

When all the bills are in, the combined direct expenditures by the Harris and Kratovil committees appear on track to equal or exceed the total of $5 million that the two men spent in the 2008 contest – bringing the total likely bill for the 1st District contest this year to more than $9 million.

The $4 million in independent expenditures exceeds the more than $3.8 million in similar spending in the 2008 congressional race. In contrast to this year, a significant portion of the spending by outside groups in 2008 was focused on the Republican primary, in which Harris ousted then-GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrist.

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