Predictions are flying about the likelihood of the House and Senate changing party hands in November's midterm elections. But before parties can plan their agendas for the next congressional session, their candidates first have to make it through their primaries. After Tuesday, the last big day of the 2010 primary season, nearly all of the nominees for the general election will be chosen. Altogether, voters in seven states plus the District of Columbia will on Tuesday finalize their November ballots for 61 House seats, six Senate seats, and six gubernatorial races. Only the Hawaii primary and a House runoff primary in Louisiana will remain after this.
The most competitive congressional race in Maryland this year is undoubtedly in the First District, currently represented by Democrat Frank Kratovil. Kratovil won the seat by a margin of less than 1 percentage point in 2008, and his district has in the past skewed Republican--GOP presidential candidate John McCain won it by 18 percentage points in 2008, and it had been represented by Republican Wayne Gilchrest for 18 years before Kratovil took the seat. Republicans see this race, considered a toss-up by many election analysts, as an opportunity to get one seat closer to a GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative House Democrats, Kratovil has been touting his efforts to rein in "out-of-control" government spending in his efforts to win voters' favor. Unopposed for the Democratic nomination, Kratovil has raised over $1.9 million for his reelection bid, of which over $1.3 million remains.
Physician and state Sen. Andrew Harris, Kratovil's Republican opponent in the 2008 general election, is one of two Republican candidates hoping to unseat the freshman Democrat. Harris may have the name recognition advantage in this race and he definitely has a monetary advantage, with nearly $1.7 million in receipts and $944,000 still in the bank. Businessman Rob Fisher has raised considerably less, having taken in $506,000 over the election cycle, $475,000 of which has come out of his own pocket. This means that he has received relatively little support in the form of donations from individuals or political action committees. However, Fisher has received help in the form of an endorsement from Gilchrest. He also has been billing himself as an "outsider," in the hopes that the anti-incumbent mood among the electorate this year will help boost him to victory.
The Senate seat currently held by Democrat Barbara Mikulski is expected to remain in her hands after November, but that has clearly not deterred the wide field of candidates who hope to unseat her. According to the Maryland Board of Elections, seven Democrats and 11 Republicans will compete in Tuesday's Maryland Senate primaries.
Mikulski, a 24-year Senate veteran, has several factors in her favor going into Tuesday's primary. A July poll by Maryland firm Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed her with a 59 percent approval rating. While Mikulski's approval ratings had regularly been above 60 percent in the past, this level of support from the electorate could easily carry her through Tuesday's race. Furthermore, the Democratic field is short on well-known or well-funded candidates. Four of the candidates on Tuesday's Democratic ballot ran in the 2006 primary against Sen. Ben Cardin and obtained less than 1 percent of the vote each. In addition, Mikulski has only one Democratic opponent who has fundraising reports available from the Federal Election Commission, engineer Christopher Garner. Candidates only must file campaign finance reports with the FEC once they have raised $5,000 or more. Garner reports just over $27,000 in campaign receipts over the election cycle. compared to Mikulski's $4.8 million.
Among the 11 GOP candidates, physician Eric Wargotz, commissioner of Maryland's Queen Anne's County, has the most resources at his disposal to take on Mikulski, with $773,000 in receipts and $543,000 still in the bank as of August 25. Wargotz has committed large amounts of his personal wealth to his election efforts, loaning $575,000 to his campaign. This strong fundraising has allowed him to also be one of the more visible Republican candidates, and he has gained national notoriety in recent weeks with a popular dinosaur-themed television ad labeling Mikulski as an "Insidersaurus." His so-called "birther" beliefs have also gained wide attention, not much of it positive. A video of Wargotz at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, saying that he does not believe President Obama was born in the United States, has drawn heavy criticism in the blogosphere.
Attorney Jim Rutledge is another Republican candidate who comes into the race with significant support, both in the form of money and the Tea Party movement. Working to differentiate himself from Wargotz, Rutledge is billing himself as "the Tea Party candidate," even though Wargotz also claims Tea Party support. While he has significantly less in his campaign account than Wargotz, with only $3,727 left of the $159,000 he has raised this cycle, Rutledge is working to spin these facts to his advantage, criticizing Wargotz for trying to "buy the election" with his largely self-funded campaign.
However, it appears that Wargotz has more voters behind him than Rutledge, and that either candidate will have to fight hard to win in November. An August 17 Rasmussen poll of showed that 55 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Mikulski, compared to 39 percent who supported Wargotz. Only 3 percent said they would vote for "some other candidate," and an additional 3 percent were undecided. That leaves precious few voters for the primary winners to try to win over before Election Day.