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Politics in Sixth District is more personal

August 25, 2008|By By MAREN WRIGHT / Capital News Service

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- In any other Maryland congressional district, the campaign funds amassed by U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and his Democratic challenger, Jennifer Dougherty, would be anemic.

Bartlett, a Republican from Frederick County, Md., had raised $196,693 as of June 30, according to the latest campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Dougherty had raised $87,152 in the same period.

Combined, their campaign war chests are less than half that of any other district in the state. But then, the 6th is not like any other district in the state.

"The 6th District does tend to have lower fundraising," said Andrew Duck, a Democratic challenger who lost to Dougherty in the February primary.

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"It's hard to get interested in the 6th District," said Duck, who spent $89,854 in his failed primary bid. "It's not portrayed as a contested race."

Another reason is that the 6th District, sprawling along the northern edge of the state from far Western Maryland to Harford County, does not include any large media markets.

"Most of the dollars for any type of campaign goes to media, and media is limited in the 6th District," said John Bambacus, professor emeritus in the political science department at Frostburg State University.

Given the lack of media outlets, the politics becomes more personal.

Dougherty, a former mayor of Frederick, is using direct mail, bumper stickers and signs to get her name and message out. More than half of the money spent thus far by her campaign, more than $27,000, has been spent on printing and mailing costs.

"The media campaign consists of signs" for Dougherty, said Garrett County Democratic Party Central Committee Chairman James Stanton.

He said the rest of the party strategy for Dougherty was to "have her actually meet as many people as possible." Dougherty has already been to six events in his county, and has more visits planned, he said.

She said she has knocked on more than 6,000 doors and has scheduled multiple events and appearances in each county.

The largest combined expenditure for Bartlett's campaign was a round of media buys across the district for the February primaries. But the combined cost of advertising on the only local television affiliate and three radio stations in the district only came to $10,567.

Bartlett's largest single expenditure, according to the FEC report, was $8,214 to the Tarrance Group, a polling agency out of Alexandria, Va.

"We always poll, whether we're up or down," said Bud Otis, Bartlett's campaign chairman.

But Otis said Bartlett, who also has $336,915 in campaign cash on hand, is comfortable with the relatively low level of fundraising for an incumbent.

"We've raised what we need," Otis said.

Bambacus said he does not believe the low fundraising will present a problem for Bartlett.

"I would value incumbency at at least $1 million," he said.

As evidence of the power of incumbency, he pointed to two stories in that day's Cumberland, Md., paper of Bartlett awarding medals to veterans and meeting at a local fire department.

Much of the campaigning in the 6th District is that type of direct constituent contact that cannot be quantified by dollars, Bambacus said.

"They really want to see the candidates and want people to come to the farms," said Bambacus.

That's fine with the candidates.

"We knew it was going to take a grass-roots, feet-on-the-street effort to equal the dollars that could be spent on the other side," Dougherty said.

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