With Election Day a year away, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has already raised nearly $4.4 million and is on pace to shatter the spending record for a gubernatorial campaign in Maryland, according to figures released yesterday.
The lieutenant governor's relentless fund-raising machine shows no signs of slowing. With her largest event of the year scheduled for next month, aides say her total could rise to $6 million by January.
Four years ago, the Glendening/Townsend ticket raised $6.2 million for the entire campaign and was slightly outspent by Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in what was then the costliest state race ever.
Townsend's most formidable potential GOP opponent next year, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has raised almost $600,000 for his state campaign fund during the current election cycle.
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, increasingly mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate for governor, has collected nearly $860,000 in the past year - his only fund raising since his election two years ago.
The totals were supplied by the candidates, taken from campaign finance reports due today at the state elections board.
Ehrlich's political director, Paul E. Schurick, said the Baltimore County Republican is undaunted by Townsend's take.
"We have no intention of trying to match her fund raising dollar for dollar," Schurick said. "She has the ability to raise huge amounts of money outside of Maryland, and we don't. That's not our strategy."
Figures supplied by the Townsend campaign show that of the $1.8 million she raised in the past year, about 62 percent came from Marylanders, and the rest - about $685,000 - came from elsewhere.
That number would have been higher, however, but a fund-raising event at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannisport, Mass., was postponed in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Much of this year's out-of-state money, aides said, resulted from a national mailing by EMILY's List, a Washington-based advocacy group that bills itself as "a political network for pro-choice Democratic women."
"We don't shy away from that at all," said Jeffery F. Liss, treasurer of the Friends of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, referring to non-Maryland donations. "We're delighted and proud that she's established a national reputation and people want to help her."
Liss said the Townsend campaign does not have an overall fund-raising goal.
"We all know in today's world it costs a lot of money to run a competitive race," he said. "If others run, great. If others don't, that's fine."
Townsend's hefty account is certain to give other potential candidates pause.
At this point in the race four years ago, Gov. Parris N. Glendening had raised $2.1 million, less than half what Townsend has taken in so far.
"It's a staggering amount for a Maryland election this early in the process," said pollster and strategist Keith Haller of Potomac Survey Research.
"It sends a searing message to other [would-be] candidates that they are not only going to have to get the public's attention, but they are going to have to raise an amount of money that is unheard of."
Coupled with her ability to make news as the lieutenant governor, Townsend's campaign account will allow extensive voter outreach through mailings and telephone calls, as well as the purchase of numerous radio and television spots, Haller said.
"It allows you to reinforce your message in a very extensive manner and respond to any attacks that might come in a gubernatorial campaign," he said.
"It gives her the firepower to operate at a level that few other candidates can muster."
Ehrlich has not yet decided whether to abandon his congressional seat and run for governor, but he has said his ability to raise money will be a critical factor in the choice.
He wants his fund-raising committee to collect $2 million by the end of the year as a signal of interest in his candidacy.
The congressman is "on target" to meet that goal, Schurick said yesterday, and has 19 fund-raising events scheduled for this month alone.
He said Ehrlich's state campaign account has collected about $350,000 in less than five weeks.
"This is not a contest to see who can raise the most amount of money," Schurick said.
"This is a contest about the future of Maryland. It's about what to do about a billion-dollar budget deficit, and about building a highway system."
Colleen Martin-Lauer, a fund-raising consultant for O'Malley, said the mayor held only two events in the past year.
She said she believes he could tap a reservoir of contributions if needed. The $776,000 he has in the bank could be used either for re-election or a statewide race.
"The mayor doesn't know whether he is going to run [for governor] or not," Martin-Lauer said. "But the question isn't whether he can raise the money. He absolutely can raise the money."
Food, equipment, staff and other fund-raising expenses have consumed nearly $1.1 million of Townsend's account, leaving her with about $3.3 million in the bank.
Ehrlich has about $425,000 in available cash.
Townsend's strength is also reflected in the relatively anemic amounts raised by other potential Democratic challengers.
In recent weeks, those candidates have either formally abandoned the race or begun talking seriously about other prospects.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan raised about $302,000 in the past 12 months, and $1.27 million during the current election cycle.
He has more than $800,000 cash on hand, his staffers say.
Last week, Duncan announced he would seek re-election rather than run for governor.
Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger collected $320,288 during the past year, and his total for the cycle is $3.02 million. After expenses, he has a $1.59 million cash balance.
Because federal fund-raising laws are different, Ruppersberger could use only a small amount of his state money if he runs for Congress - an option he is exploring.