By DAVID SALEH RAUF
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (August 20, 2010)—Republicans in Maryland's 5th
Congressional District have noticed something new this year: Representative Steny Hoyer appears to be grinding the campaign trail.
Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat and 15-term incumbent, is meeting with teachers and small business leaders and is ramping up appearances across the district, after years of what Republicans call less-than-aggressive campaigning.
"He's done more campaigning in the last three months in the district than he's done in the last 10 years in my unofficial observation," said Collins Bailey, a Republican who lost to Hoyer in 2008. "He's actually campaigning locally now."
It's all a product of what local GOP leaders say could be the most competitive 5th District race in decades.
Hoyer shrugged off assertions that this campaign is any different from the past.
"I always run an aggressive campaign, whether I have an opponent or not. And I'm always in the district," he said.
Hoyer has easily beaten every Republican since taking office in 1981 and political experts are not yet calling the overwhelmingly Democratic district—which includes chunks of Prince George's and Anne Arundel and all of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties—a battleground.
But this year's election could be different, experts say. For one, dissatisfaction with government is making this campaign difficult for incumbents. And the quality of the challengers could also complicate the election for Hoyer, said Michael Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"I actually think Steny Hoyer is concerned," Cain said. "I don't think he will take this race for granted. I expect he will be out there more, trying to get out his message."
Four Republicans are vying in the Sept. 14 primary, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.
Bailey, a constitutionalist and Charles County resident who won 24 percent of the vote in 2008, has name recognition in the district after that campaign. A more serious challenge, observers say, could come from political newcomer Charles Lollar, a former
U.S. Marine who was once touted as a potential gubernatorial candidate. Lollar
also resides in Charles County.
Local GOP leaders say Lollar is generating support in the district with his energy, fiery conservative rhetoric and strong ties to Prince George's County. That could equate to the perfect formula to defeat Hoyer, said Frank McCabe, chairman of the Calvert County Republican Central Committee.
"Charles has stirred people, and he's getting support from around the country," McCabe said.
Cain said Republicans are high on Lollar because he appears to be the strongest candidate in the field. But, he cautioned, "No one nationally is calling this seat in play."
"The question is if this is going to be a tight, competitive race," he said. "I don't know yet. There's a lot of this game to be played."
Hoyer faces two Democratic challengers, including a University of Maryland graduate student, but few experts expect the primary to present much of a challenge for the incumbent.
On a recent Thursday, Hoyer met with teachers and attended a candidates' forum at Prince George's Community College, where he defended the Obama administration's economic policy and touted his local roots. Earlier in the day, he met with small-business leaders in Bowie to talk about healthcare reform and the next day he visited Beltsville firms to talk about an initiative to create manufacturing jobs.
Still, local GOP leaders are painting Hoyer as out of touch with the district and blasted him and the Democratic administration for healthcare reform legislation, a stalled economy and high unemployment rates.
But riding a wave of anti-incumbent fervor into the general election will not be enough for Republicans to win a blue state like Maryland, opined Cain. To win, they will have to go beyond the "Tea Party vote and get more of the electorate," he said.
That includes capturing votes in Prince George's County, which has the most voters in the district. Republicans have traditionally done poorly in the county: In 2008, Bailey won 12.9 percent of the vote there.
GOP candidates have not campaigned there in the past, said Mykel Harris, chairman of the Prince George's County Republican Central Committee. That is expected to change this election, he said.
"Charles is at least going to ask for the vote," said Harris, who is also Lollar's campaign manager. "Many Republicans see the African-American vote as hostile and to a large extent that's true. But at the end of the day there are people who want to be asked for their vote."
If Lollar wins the nomination, he will be the best-funded candidate to face Hoyer since at least 2004, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Lollar had raised $192,978 as of June 30, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission figures, and he said his campaign has raised another $50,000 to $60,000 since that filing. His goal is to raise $1.3 million to be able to seriously compete with Hoyer.
"We know how much it's going to take for us to get the message out at the end of the day, and we'll have that in the bank come September or October," Lollar said.
Bailey had raised $112,343 as of June 30, more than four times his 2008 total. But most of that came from a $100,000 loan Bailey made to his campaign last September, according to the FEC.
Although Lollar and Bailey have more money than most previous GOP challengers in the district, their fundraising still pales in comparison to Hoyer, who has raised more than $3.3 million and had more than $1.5 million on hand, according to FEC records.
"Hoyer's money doesn't intimidate me in the least bit," Bailey said. "Money is a wonderful thing. But money doesn't vote."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.
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