By MAITE FERNANDEZ
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (August 20, 2010)—GOP challenger Jim Wilhelm does not believe money is the most important factor in the 3rd District congressional race.
"It's the message, the person, the candidate," said Wilhelm, a technology consultant and Gulf War veteran. "It's your core principles and your values. That's what people are looking at."
He better hope he's right: Like all 10 of the challengers in the 3rd District, Wilhelm's campaign funds are far outpaced by those of incumbent Rep. John Sarbanes, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Sarbanes, a Democrat, had $761,284 on hand as of June 30, the last filing deadline for the FEC.
Wilhelm reported raising $42,000, but $41,000 of that came from Wilhelm himself. He had $39,415 on hand as of June 30. Another Republican in the race, Greg Bartosz, raised $8,124 and reported having $2,280 on hand, according to the FEC filings.
None of the other 3rd District candidates who had filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections—four other Democrats, two other Republicans, a Libertarian and a candidate from the Constitution Party—reported any fundraising activity to the FEC.
Thomas Kevin Carney, who did report raising $9,903 and spending $59,497, has since withdrawn his candidacy and is now seeking a state Senate seat.
Given the disparity in fundraising, the incumbent appears to have quite an edge, said one political scientist.
"Democrats are not expecting to lose this seat and Republicans are not expecting to win it," said Frances E. Lee, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
The 3rd District, which includes portions of Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, has been held by a Democrat since the late 1920s. In the last five races, Democratic candidates have been elected with more than 60 percent of the vote, according to Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.
Lee said that part of the problem in a district that leans toward one party is that good candidates from the other party can be discouraged from running.
"So Republicans do worse than they would otherwise do because is very hard for them to recruit people who have political experience to run," Lee said.
Republicans would probably do better in the elections if they could recruit strong candidates, Lee said, but that type of candidate chooses not to run there because they think they have no chance.
"It's really a vicious cycle in terms of competition," she said.
Lee said that challengers can be effective if they can raise enough money to run a credible campaign. But Sarbanes' challengers are still a long way away from what she considers enough.
"I wouldn't expect a candidate to be credible without raising at least half a million dollars," she said.
But Wilhelm and the others are not deterred. For Wilhelm, any incumbent is vulnerable.
"Even right now in Maryland, a fairly blue state, people have woken up," he said.
To Wilhelm, who stands for a smaller and limited government and fewer taxes, people are realizing that the Democratic policies of "tax, tax, tax and spend, spend, spend" don't work. He believes Sarbanes is the "typical elitist Democrat": A lawyer who went to the right schools.
"I think we need people in Congress who are not necessarily lawyers but who actually would listen to the people," Wilhelm said.
Repeated calls to Greg Bartosz and to the Sarbanes' campaign headquarters went unanswered.
Sarbanes is in his second term as 3rd District representative. He has introduced the "No Child Left Inside Act of 2009," which aims to give children education in the environment and ecology, and the "Telework Improvements Act of 2010," recently passed in the House, which would expand teleworking opportunities for federal workers.
During this campaign, his main donors are the same as in his previous campaign. Most of his money is from individuals and only about 10 percent is from political action committees, according to Opensecrets.org.
Among individual donors, the most important contributors to his campaign come from Venable LLP, the law firm where Sarbanes used to work, and Johns Hopkins University.
His largest PAC donations come from different delivery workers unions, like the American Postal Workers Union COPA, the UPS PAC and the National Association of Letter Carriers. Those three contributed $7,000 total to Sarbanes' campaign, according to FEC data.
John Sarbanes comes from a political family: He's the son of retired U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and brother to Michael Sarbanes, who ran unsuccessfully for president of Baltimore City Council and is currently the executive director of the office of Partnerships, Communications and Community Engagement of Baltimore City Schools.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.