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Office seekers call on advisers

July 14, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Door-to-door campaigning is a long-standing tradition in winning Maryland General Assembly races in Washington County. But this year, the campaigns are getting more sophisticated.

While candidates still are talking to individual voters, they also are seeking the advice of campaign professionals in their quests.

More than a few of the candidates for state delegate and senator in Washington County have hired publicists, campaign managers or other professional consultants to help them shape their message and make sure it reaches voters.

When LeRoy Myers decided to jump into the unfamiliar world of politics this year, he knew early on he would need a professional to show him the ropes. The Clear Spring construction company owner lacked campaign experience and was unsure even about basic tasks such as filling out the required paperwork.

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One of the first things he did was hire Corey Stottlemyer, a former economic development administrator who has a master's degree in policy studies at Johns Hopkins University, as his campaign manager.

"He and I complement each other very well. We're so well prepared for this task," said Myers, a Republican who is running for the District 1C Delegate seat.

Myers' decision to hire Stottlemyer turned out to be fortuitous. Less than a month ago, Myers learned he would have to run against House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, under a court-ordered redistricting plan.

In that underdog position, Myers said he's going to need all the help he can get.

Trend reflected


The new redistricting plan prompted Del. Robert A. McKee to rethink the need for a professional consultant.

When he thought he would be running against fellow Republican Del. Christopher B. Shank, he had arranged to hire party political strategist Kevin Igoe to help him differentiate himself to Republican voters in the primary.

Now that he will be running a more familiar general election campaign against Democrat Peter E. Perini Sr., McKee said he doesn't think he'll need the advice.

Perini has hired a publicist from Shepherdstown, W.Va., in his attempt to take the District 2A Delegate seat away from McKee.

In the high-profile race for state Senate in District 3, both Republican Alex X. Mooney and Democrat Sue Hecht have hired full-time campaign managers to schedule their campaign appearances, coordinate volunteers and formulate strategy.

What's happening in Western Maryland is indicative of a nationwide trend, said Paul Herrnson, director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland.

Herrnson recently conducted a study, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust, which found 44 percent of campaigns nationwide hired at least one professional consultant. About 7 percent hired a staff of seven people or more, which is comparable to a Congressional campaign, he said.

The trend began in large states such as California, where state legislators have larger constituencies than members of Congress.

This year's once-a-decade redistricting process has boosted the trend in Maryland by bringing out more political newcomers, who are more likely to turn to professionals, he said.

Cost a downside


One downside of the hired guns is cost. Adding paid professionals drives up the cost of already expensive campaigns, Herrnson said.

Myers expects he'll need about $80,000 to mount a credible challenge to Taylor, who had a campaign war chest of about $200,000 when he filed his last financial report in November.

Hecht, who is a state delegate, said she will need about $200,000 to challenge Mooney, whom she believes will have raised $500,000 by August.

The annual salary for each seat is $34,500 next year and tops out at $43,500 at the end of the four-year term.

John Bambacus, a political science professor at Frostburg State University and former state Senator, lamented the rising cost of state legislative campaigns. But he said it's simply a fact of life as candidates try to get their message to as many voters as possible.

"The stakes are higher. You've got a much more sophisticated citizenry," he said. "The two most important things in a campaign are time and money and you don't ever seem to have enough of either."

Bambacus believes the days of going door-to-door are mostly over in Maryland, but Washington County incumbents aren't ready to give up on the method that's worked for them for decades.

Shank has been pounding the pavement for two to three hours a night and all day on Saturdays.

"I think that's the only way to truly get your fingers on the pulse of the voters. I get a great feeling from doing it," he said.

Shank said he saw how well it has worked for Sen. Donald F. Munson, who is seeking his eighth term in the Maryland General Assembly. Shank is convinced that door-knocking helped him defeat incumbent Democrat D. Bruce Poole in 1998.

But Shank is not immune to the professional trend. He is hiring outside companies to help him formulate and mail campaign literature.

Whether hired guns help win the race largely depends on the candidate, Herrnson said.

In the case of incumbents, it can be seen as a desperate response to a serious challenge. But studies show that challengers perform better with professional help, he said.

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