By HOLLY NUNN, Capital News Service
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (August 19, 2010)—Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski has raised more than $3 million for her re-election campaign, small potatoes when compared to some of the big-money campaigns across the country.
But it's more than four times as much as her closest competitor, Queen Anne's County Commissioner Eric Wargotz, a Republican, who has personally funded much of the $762,270 his campaign has raised.
And Wargotz's fundraising far outstrips the other 21 challengers in the race.
That's right: 21 more challengers.
They have their work cut out for them, said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Responsive Politics. He said it is extremely difficult to beat an incumbent, and even more difficult to defeat one with a significant cash advantage like Mikulski's.
"This is like trying to storm a highly fortified castle with not a very big army," Levinthal said.
Despite the odds, there are 23 people running for Maryland's U.S. Senate seat this fall, including candidates from the Constitution Party, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party, as well as Republicans and Democrats.
"This election cycle is not about big money," Wargotz said. "Viable campaigns require dollars, but people supporting you is the most important."
Wargotz's campaign war chest includes $575,000 of his own money that he loaned to the effort. Even with a relatively slim bank account, Wargotz, who claims Tea Party endorsements, is at the head of a crowded field for the Sept. 14 Republican primary.
Wargotz's closest Republican challenger, attorney Jim Rutledge, raised $125,144 but had spent most of that by June 30, the latest deadline for campaigns to file with the Federal Elections Commission.
Rutledge and Wargotz are joined by nine other contenders for the Republican nomination, none of whom have held public office before or reported having any money as of the latest FEC funding deadline.
Neil Cohen, a dentist from Potomac who identifies himself as the only moderate Republican in the race, claims to have raised about $20,000 for the campaign but had not filed a report with the FEC by mid-summer. Cohen sees the Republican primary as a toss-up because none of the candidates has name recognition.
"Nobody really knows any of the candidates," Cohen said. "But I wouldn't be doing this if I thought I couldn't win."
His plan is to motivate voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, hoping for enough name recognition to win the primary.
Five candidates are challenging Mikulski in the Democratic primary. Engineer Christopher Garner has raised the most, lending more than $14,000 of his own to his $15,098 campaign total as of June 30. Garner describes himself on his website as a liberal Democrat whose priority issues include ending illegal immigration, limiting imports and buying American, as well as pay cuts and "disincumbentization" of Congress.
Other Democrats in the race are criminal intelligence analyst Sanquetta Taylor and previous congressional hopefuls Lih Young and Theresa Scaldaferri. Vietnam veteran Blaine Taylor is running on a platform to end all wars, but is not accepting campaign contributions on principle. He would like to see all money out of politics.
That sentiment is echoed by Don Kaplan, who is running a write-in campaign on the platform "How I become corrupted in six years or less." His website says that, if elected, he will spend six years reporting to constituents "how everything in the Senate actually works."
Another write-in candidate, James T. Lynch Jr. of Baltimore, acknowledges that he faces long odds, just like he did when he ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Democrat in 2002.
But running is a fun thing to do, he says, and he recommends it as an interesting experience for anyone interested in politics.
"I know my chances of winning are slim," Lynch said. "But you never know. I could be like the candidate in South Carolina, Alvin Greene, and wake up and find myself senator."