Crowded Field of Challengers Focus on Ruppersberger in 2nd District

By KERRY DAVIS, Capital News Service

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (August 19, 2010)—It's tough to raise money for an upstart congressional campaign and particularly tough to do so in a down economy, say some of the nine challengers in Maryland's 2nd District race.

Their campaign finance reports bear that out: Of the nine, only two reported any income with the Federal Election Commission as of June 30, the most recent filing deadline.

"There's the economic situation now, and people with less disposable income, and expenses they're facing," said Robert Imhoff, who volunteers on Democratic challenger Raymond Atkins' campaign.

While the challengers may be struggling, it's a different story for incumbent Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger.

The four-term Democrat had just over $1 million on hand as of June 30, almost 10 times as much as the best-funded challenger in the race. The power of incumbency and the fundraising advantage for Ruppersberger are expected to be tough to overcome, political analysts say.

"I think most people view all incumbents as re-elected in Maryland," said Blair Lee, a political commentator on WBAL radio and a columnist for The Gazette newspapers. He said the only exception this year could be Maryland's 1st District, which is "taking all the attention" from other races in the state.

But a spokeswoman said Ruppersberger's campaign is not taking anything for granted.

"At this point we're still working on strategy. We'll see how it goes," said Heather Moeder Molino, the spokeswoman. "The campaign is still young, it's only August."

The challengers, however, said they are already campaigning hard.

"We are raising a little bit of money, we just haven't reached the $5,000 limit that government mandates we have to report," to the FEC, said Troy Stouffer, a Republican candidate. "Basically, we're doing a whole lot of grassroots organizing, knocking on doors and sign-waving, trying to reach as many people as possible."

There are three Democrats, five Republicans and one Libertarian challenging Ruppersberger. The primary election is Sept. 14, with the general election on Nov. 2.

Besides Ruppersberger, who had $1.02 million on hand as of June 30, only Republican Marcelo Cardarelli and Democratic challenger Jeffrey Morris reporting any fundraising activity to the FEC this summer.

Cardarelli had raised a total of $134,123, though $120,000 came from the candidate himself. He still had $106,101 on hand as of June 30. Morris reported raising $5,050 and had $2,598 on hand on June 30, according to the FEC.

The challengers spoke about the difficulties of getting people to part with their money for campaign contributions, especially during times of economic uncertainty. Most donors, candidates said, want to give their money to a candidate they think will win.

"We're bringing in more money now than before the (FEC) deadline," Cardarelli said. "I believe real money is going to come after primaries, if we're able to win, because we have lots of pledges of that, because they want to see that we are the candidate."

Other challengers say this is no time for Ruppersberger to get comfortable.

"He (Ruppersberger) doesn't seem to excite much loyalty. He seems to assume he's going to just be re-elected," Democratic candidate Christopher Boardman said.

If there is one thing that the challengers can agree on, it's that they are more focused on Ruppersberger than each other.

"I think we all know Dutch is the one to beat," said Josh Dowlut, a Republican. "I mean, I'd love to win and I think I've got the best grasp on the economics. But if it's one of the other guys, I'll be the first to make a call and volunteer for their campaign."

Lee agrees with the challengers that money does not always guarantee a win.

"Time after time we see candidates lose who have more money. In the end, voters care more about issues than they do TV ads," Lee said.

But, he said, money is only one of the advantages Ruppersberger enjoys in this race.

"Dutch is at home in his district, he's well-liked, and I can't even name his opponent," Lee said. "I don't think he'll have a problem getting re-elected."

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