Still angry about this winter's bitter GOP primary, the chief fundraiser for Republican Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest announced yesterday she will join the campaign of the Democratic challenger for Maryland's open 1st District.
Lynn Caligiuri, who has been raising money for Gilchrest for the past decade, will now work against state Sen. Andy Harris, who unseated the nine-term incumbent by more than 10 points. She is also the wife of Gilchrest's chief of staff, who has appeared at an event for Republicans supporting Queen Anne's County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil Jr.
Kratovil's campaign -- which faces an uphill battle in a district where voting patterns tilt toward the GOP -- is also set to gain help from the House's second-ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer.
His new campaign manager will be Marie Duffield, a seasoned political operative from Southern Maryland who has worked in the past on local elections in conjunction with the Hoyer. The House majority leader has known Kratovil since he was a child and has taken a keen interest in the race.
Hoyer's support, along with that of national Democrats, is seen as essential if Kratovil is to stay competitive with Harris, who is a powerhouse fundraiser.
National Democratic leaders said they hope that Gilchrest's primary defeat by the more conservative Harris might open the door for them to take control of the district, which comprises the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
"Kratovil's going to have to wage a much more sophisticated campaign in the general election than he did in the fall to beat someone as strong as Harris," said Michael J.G. Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland. Democrats have "an uphill fight," he said, but because it's now a seat with no incumbent, "they have an opening."
"For that reason, they can expect outside money and outside consulting on both sides to make either the Republican or Democrat prevail," he said. "It's one of the most exciting campaigns in the country."
Stu Rothenberg, founder and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington-based newsletter that tracks House and Senate races, said many questions still loom over the race: Will Gilchrest switch sides to endorse Kratovil? How much money can the young prosecutor raise? Can Harris -- a workhorse campaigner -- unite the factions of the GOP still loyal to Gilchrest after a nasty primary?
Rothenberg said that as race "handicappers," they will not change their assessments until Kratovil proves he can overcome the district's overwhelmingly Republican bent. He is also waiting to see how much money the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will inject into Kratovil's campaign. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the DCCC, met recently with the candidate, as did Hoyer, and Van Hollen indicated that Kratovil might be a good candidate for the committee's Red to Blue program, which provides money and counsel to Democrats running in Republican-leaning districts.
"Clearly, the primary engendered a good deal of bitterness," Rothenberg said. "When you get these ideological primaries, some people are often left with a bad taste in the mouth. ... Kratovil still has to prove this is a race. Obviously, Gilchrest is the wild card here. It's still an open question whether Democrats can take advantage of a deep division in the ranks."
A number of sources close to both campaigns -- who declined to be identified because they are not authorized by the candidates to speak publicly -- said the congressman already came close to endorsing Kratovil. Gilchrest's comments after losing the election left little to the imagination, since he frequently cast the question of whom he would support as a choice between loyalty to his party versus "the welfare of my eternal soul."
Tony Caligiuri, Gilchrest's campaign manager and chief of staff, said his boss has yet to make a decision on whom to endorse.
Gilchrest "put together a moderate, middle-of-the-road, pro-business, pro-environment coalition, and if somebody can recapture that part of the political spectrum, I think he can deliver a win," he said. Because Harris played to "the extreme right," Caliguri said, there may be an opening for Kratovil, who "took a moderate approach."
Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who broke from GOP tradition of endorsing party incumbents and instead came out early for Harris in the primary, said he didn't see any way a Democrat could win, although he's still encouraging Harris to "keep the pedal to the metal."
"Obviously, there was a reason Andy won in the first place," he said. "The Democrats drew this district to elect a Republican. ... It is the most reliably Republican district in the state. [Kratovil] can run as Hoyer's candidate, O'Malley's or Nancy Pelosi's. ... He's obviously a Clinton-Obama supporter, and that is certainly not the mainstream in that district ... and everybody knows it."
Harris, a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and one of the most conservative senators in Annapolis, said the GOP has already united behind him. He noted the uniform support of all the district's GOP delegates and senators, all the chairs of local Republican central committees, and the state and national parties.
"We have the entire party united behind my candidacy and the message of fiscal discipline, lower taxes, lower spending and stimulating the economy," said Harris, 51. "I would welcome the support of Congressman Gilchrest. ... But with or without it, we're going to reach out to all voters in the 1st Congressional District with my message. It resonated with voters in the primary and it's going to resonate with voters in the general election."
Harris and his campaign manager, Chris Meekins, also pointed out that he has raised nearly $1.5 million so far in contributions and spent $1.2 million, much of which went to pay for TV and radio advertising. That gives him a formidable head start on introducing himself to voters, they said, given that Kratovil has only raised $435,000 to date and spent about $250,000.
Meekins also said the campaign planned to vigorously dispute the assertion that Kratovil's a moderate. He cast the hiring of a new campaign manager as a sign of "desperation." "He's said he would be an ally of Martin O'Malley in Washington," Meekins said. "That's the last thing voters in the 1st Congressional District want."
Kratovil, 39, said he had always intended to hire more people after the primary to move "to the next stage in this game." He noted that despite all the money Harris raised and spent, the two campaigns have roughly the same amount of cash on hand. Kratovil has about $180,000, according to his campaign, compared with $204,000 for Harris.
"Whether or not we can be competitive in raising money, that will be the real challenge. ... I think people are very tired of the extreme partisan nature of politics in Washington, and in many respects, I think that greatly distinguishes me from my opponent."