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Money doesn't always buy election victory

November 28, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

Spending $8.38 for every voter in his southern Washington County district wasn't enough for D. Bruce Poole to win re-election to the Maryland House of Delegates.

The three top spenders in the Washington County Commissioners race also lost earlier this month, proving that money can't buy votes.

Poole spent $79,560 in his failed bid, according to final campaign finance reports from the Nov. 3 election. The Democrat could not be reached for comment.

Republican Chris Shank spent less than a fourth of that, $18,103. That worked out to $1.91 for each of the 9,495 people who voted.

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Shank said he expected Poole to hugely outspend him.

As a political newcomer, Shank didn't have the fund-raising ability of three-term incumbent Poole, who captured the bulk of his $87,517 war chest from individuals ($36,791) and political action committees ($30,210).

Poole used the money to mail numerous glossy flyers to voters throughout the district, pay pollsters $3,000, buy advertising and pay someone to keep track of his campaign spending, records show.

Shank, 26, ran a grassroots campaign. With less money to spend, he tried to target his mailings to areas where he had the weakest support and saved some money for the crucial final days before the election, he said.

"I had to have that faith going into it that money cannot buy campaigns," he said.

Shank said he couldn't put a value on his dogged doorknocking effort.

A similar grassroots strategy worked for Republican William Wivell in his bid for Washington County Commissioner. Wivell spent the least among the five winners.

"I'm not a firm believer that you should have to spend a lot of money to get elected. I guess I followed a conservative Republican approach," he said.

Wivell, who spent about $5,000, said that was twice as much as he had planned to spend. He upped the amount after realizing that he had underestimated the cost of printing campaign signs.

On the other hand, Susan T. Tuckwell, who had set her sights on an expensive campaign, failed by 196 votes.

Tuckwell planned to spend about $20,000 and her total came to $23,445. She had no regrets.

"I'm a private citizen now and I did what I had to do," she said.

Two other county commissioner candidates, both incumbents, also waged expensive losing campaigns.

Ronald L. Bowers spent $17,195 and John S. Shank spent $12,321.

But big spending did seem to make a difference in the Washington County Board of Education race, where the amount of money spent matched the number of votes the candidates received.

Mary L. Wilfong, who spent the most at $5,745, was the top vote-getter.

She said before the election that she looked at what earlier first-time candidates spent to win and gauged her campaign accordingly.

Seven of the 10 school board candidates spent less than $1,000 on their campaigns.

Two - incumbents B. Marie Byers and Doris J. Nipps - were re-elected.

One candidate was one day late filing his report.

J. Herbert Hardin, who was elected to the school board, was fined $10 for the infraction, election officials said.

The most expensive campaign in Washington County was waged by Alex X. Mooney, who said he spent about $123,000 to unseat fellow Republican Sen. John W. Derr.

"To have a winning campaign, I knew I had to raise money," said Mooney, who started fund-raising a year ago by identifying people and groups who shared his conservative ideals.

Mooney started knocking on doors in March and estimated he reached 10,000 homes in District 3, which includes parts of Washington and Frederick counties.

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