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They contend for Congress

The Baltimore Sun

Democrats are expected to expand their majorities in the House and Senate this year. While Maryland has long seemed an unlikely place for the party to make gains, national Democratic leaders believe that the current political climate has improved their prospects here.

Democratic prosecutor Frank Kratovil is mounting a strong challenge to GOP state Sen. Andy Harris in the Eastern Shore-based district left open by the Republican primary defeat of longtime Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest. National analysts have called the race a toss-up.

Assuming that the state's current members of Congress win re-election, a Kratovil victory would give Democrats seven of Maryland's eight House seats. Former Frederick Mayor Jennifer Dougherty, a Democrat facing a tough fight against Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in Western Maryland, is trying for a clean sweep. Challengers in the districts with incumbents face a daunting task. Each trails significantly in fundraising and, in all but the Bartlett district, name recognition. But several said they felt duty-bound to give voters a choice.

Here is a look at the state's congressional races, district by district.

district 1 The Harris-Kratovil contest turns into a tight one, with rancorous exchanges in the TV advertisements

1st Congressional District

Maryland's most competitive congressional race pits Republican Andy Harris, who defeated incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest in a bitterly fought primary, against Frank M. Kratovil, a Democrat who has cast himself as a moderate in Gilchrest's mold.

Ordinarily, the district, which joins the Eastern Shore with portions of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, would be easy for the GOP. But with the national party's fortunes fading and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee planning to spend more than $1 million to back Kratovil, Harris finds himself in a contest that has grown unexpectedly tight.

Harris, a 51-year-old anesthesiologist at Johns Hopkins who has spent 10 years in the Maryland Senate, talks about cutting taxes, promoting domestic oil production and eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. He says he would promote cooperation among the several states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed to clean up the estuary and backs health insurance programs that would be "more personal, more accessible, more affordable and more portable."

Kratovil, the 40-year-old state's attorney for Queen Anne's County, wants to increase federal oversight of financial markets, change tax policy to "focus on the middle class" and end deficit spending. He talks about a need to "overhaul" energy policy "with both short-term goals that reduce the price of gas at the pumps but also long-term goals that move us towards renewable energy and away from our dependence on foreign oil."

A point on which the candidates appear to agree: Harris says voters are tired of "politics as usual," and Kratovil says progress depends on dialing back the "extreme partisan nature" of the discourse in Washington.

If they mean it, they are off to an inauspicious start. Voters are complaining about a rancorous campaign, fueled by the $2.6 million raised by Harris and $1.4 million by Kratovil, plus spending by outside groups . A Harris television ad calls Kratovil "clueless, liberal and very wrong," while a Kratovil spot says: "Andy Harris: His ideas are just way out there."

district 2 Ruppersberger calls for dialing down the partisanship as Matthews champions libertarianism

2nd Congressional District

With his party poised to expand its majorities in the House and Senate, the man who is arguably the most moderate Democrat in Maryland's congressional delegation is concerned about the tone in Washington.

"I would like to see less partisan politics," said C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a three-term congressman from Baltimore County. "We need to work, both Democrats and Republicans, as Americans first and make sure that we work together to resolve the issues."

On the campaign trail, Ruppersberger, 62, points to his positions on the House Appropriations Committee, which he has used to secure money to prepare for the expansion of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, and as head of an intelligence subcommittee.

Congress needs to make progress, he says, on the issues that have been piling up: energy independence, health care, the economy.

"There needs to be strong leadership on immigration," he added. "It's tearing our country apart, and we have to put it to rest."

Ruppersberger was re-elected in 2006 with 69 percent of the vote.

When it looked as if he might run unopposed this year, Richard Matthews stepped up.

"I looked at his record a little harder and decided I couldn't really agree with him on anything," said Matthews, who has collected $10,653 to go against Ruppersberger's $987,000 in fundraising. The 28-year-old computer systems engineer described himself as a "liberty-minded Republican" who opposed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and favors a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2009.

He has made his opposition to the financial bailout a focus of his campaign, and he recently printed signs proclaiming himself Richard "No Bailouts" Matthews.

district 3 Sarbanes emphasizes the economy and health care, while his challenger deplores a prospect of socialism

3rd Congressional District

During his first term in Congress, John Sarbanes has been on what he calls a "constant listening tour" of his district. The Baltimore County Democrat says he has made a priority of letting individuals, community groups and businesses get to know their new congressman with the familiar name.

"You come to the very affirming conclusion that what people are interested in is not necessarily having you agree with them all the time, but in having you listen to them, and maintain a level of integrity that gives them trust in your representation," said Sarbanes, 47. Sarbanes, elected to Congress with 64 percent of the vote in 2006, said the first priority of his constituents is a "very careful stewardship" of the economy. "We haven't had that at the national level, I would argue, for any sustained period of time since the last Democratic president."

Once the economy is on surer ground, he said, "I continue to believe that health care is at the top of the agenda for most people. It's been knocked off the front burner by the economic crisis, but of course, many people are in the fragile economic position they're in because of their health care situation."

Sarbanes, son of longtime U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, has raised $976,693 for his first re-election effort.

Republican Thomas E. "Pinkston" Harris is concerned that "America is in danger of being taken over socialism and nobody seems to be that concerned about it." He says universal health care would be unworkable in a country as large as the United States.

"The Democrats have a womb-to-tomb mentality," said Harris, 56, a special education teacher in Baltimore and an insurance broker. "They want to cover, they want to protect everybody from womb to tomb, and they want to destroy capitalism."

A first-time office-seeker who has not apparently raised any money, Harris calls himself a "neophyte politician" and says, "Actually, that's my blessing, because that helps me maintain my conservative positions."

district 4 Now the rematch: The 4-month veteran and the Ron Paul acolyte go head to head again

4th Congressional District

It's beginning to feel like Groundhog Day in the Washington suburbs, where voters will hit the polls for a third time this year to decide their congressional representation. Democrat Donna Edwards ousted longtime incumbent Rep. Albert R. Wynn in a party primary in February and then beat Republican Peter James in a special election to fill Wynn's seat in June.

Now comes the rematch. Edwards, 50, won the special election with more than 80 percent of the vote. She has been in Congress for four months.

"Come January, when we have a new Congress and a new president, it is going to be a time of great opportunity for the things that the people of my district care about," she said. "Things like health care and energy independence and really getting a handle on our economy and job creation."

The district, which includes portions of Montgomery County and Prince George's County, has been hit hard by foreclosures.

"We need to get this economy going again and straighten out our credit and other markets so that people can stay in their homes," Edwards said. James was district captain for the presidential run of Rep. Ron Paul. Unsatisfied with the response of Wynn, Edwards and others to his concerns about "flaws in the monetary system," the 53-year-old software entrepreneur decided to run for Congress himself. He has raised $23,314, compared with nearly $1.4 million by Edwards.

James links the financial crisis to the system by which money is issued, which he describes as the "one single issue that so threatens our nation that all others pale by comparison."

If leaders followed Paul's call for a return to the gold standard, "we might not be in this terrible mess," James said.

5th Congressional District

Steny H. Hoyer has served 28 years in Congress. Should voters send the Southern Maryland Democrat back to Washington, he says, the next two could be the most difficult.

He names the challenges: the fiscal crisis; wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; reform for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security; moving the nation away from foreign oil and toward energy independence.

"I think it's going to be a very exciting [term]," said Hoyer, the longest-serving and highest-ranking congressman in state history.

As majority leader, he ranks second in the House, behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is predicting that his party will expand its majorities in the House and Senate.

During his 14 terms in Congress, Democrats have controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress only once, from 1993 to 1995. He is looking forward to a second chance at complete control.

"It makes it easier to create consensus," he said. "The problems don't become easier."

He chuckled.

"It will also focus responsibility. Which will make it tougher, in some respects."

Republican Collins A. Bailey, 54, a lumber broker and four-term member of the Charles County Board of Education, says he wants to "restore the constitutional heritage that our founding fathers blessed us with."

The positions he is promoting: "individual responsibility; economic and personal liberty; limited, constitutional federal government; sound money; fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty and American independence."

Bailey's uphill battle is reflected in the 83 percent of the vote that Hoyer took in 2006, and Hoyer's $3.4 million campaign account, tops in the delegation. Bailey has raised $18,410.

district 6 Bartlett doesn't flinch from his principles, but Dougherty claims to be narrowing his lead

6th Congressional District

In 16 years in Washington, Roscoe G. Bartlett has pursued an eclectic series of issues: the threat of electromagnetic pulse, the potential for pluripotent stem cell research, the challenge of peak oil.

None of which comes up much on the campaign trail.

"Of course, the economy has pushed everything else off the table," the Western Maryland Republican said. "We've gotten as many calls on the bailout as we've gotten in 16 years on all issues combined."

Alone among the Maryland delegation, Bartlett, 82, voted against both bailout proposals, and countered with his own legislation to extend unlimited federal insurance of bank deposits and money market funds.

In a challenging election for Republicans two years ago, Bartlett won with 59 percent of the vote. He says he remains motivated by the beliefs that first led him to run for Congress: "Our government is too big. It spends too much, it taxes too much and it regulates too much."

Bartlett says the mortgage crisis was caused partly by federal laws encouraging mortgages for moderate- and low-income home buyers.

Democrat Jennifer Dougherty disputes that analysis."There's no evidence that says fewer laws would have been better in this case," said Dougherty, 47, a restaurateur and former mayor of Frederick. "And there's very little evidence that says totally free markets have worked. ... Government's role is to protect against people taking advantage of the system."

Dougherty said that "politics needs to be really focused on practical solutions." She says she would push for a bio-fuels refinery in the district, a convalescence and rehabilitation home for veterans, and a pilot program to allow communities to get off the power grid and tap into solar or wind energy.

Dougherty, who has raised $123,154, says an internal poll shows her trailing Bartlett by just six percentage points. Bartlett says his own polls show him with a comfortable lead, and he has collected $275,230.

district 7 Cummings hopes to work with Obama, but Hargadon fears that the U.S. is approaching facism

7th Congressional District

Having spent much of the past year working to get Barack Obama elected president, Elijah E. Cummings says he is looking forward to working on priorities he says he shares with the Democratic presidential nominee.

"For example, trying to make sure that we get health insurance for everyone," said the six-term Baltimore Democrat, who has campaigned for Obama in several states. "I see on a daily basis the number of people who are suffering needlessly and dying early."

Cummings, 57, ran unopposed in 2006 and amassed $851,797 for this year's raise. A first priority for the next Congress, he says, is an economic stimulus to fund job-creating infrastructure projects, provide job training and extend food stamps and unemployment benefits.

"We've got to turn this financial fiasco around, and we've got to help our people get back to work," he said. A stimulus package "will help us have more confidence as a society in the market. ... It also will send a message to the American people that things will get better because their neighbors will be working instead of standing in the unemployment line."

Republican Michael Hargadon says he disagrees with Cummings on "a lot of" issues.

"I figured it's not worth sitting around and being frustrated and complaining," he said. "There's really no excuse for not at least putting my hat in the ring."

A 57-year-old dentist who raised $17,173, Hargadon describes himself as a "constitutionalist" and a supporter of free enterprise.

"Our main things are limited federal government," he said. "A humble foreign policy. ... Personal liberties."

"I'm totally against the bailout," he said. "You look in the dictionary and you see what you get when you take big business and big government and put them together. I think it's close to what you call fascism. It scares me."

district 8 Van Hollen has a big agenda; his opponent calls for an end to poisonous partisanship in Washington

8th Congressional District

It has been a busy couple of years for Chris Van Hollen. In his third term, the Montgomery County Democrat helped secure federal Farm Bill funding for the Chesapeake Bay, wrote a law requiring transparency in the fundraising practice known as bundling and participated in negotiations over the financial bailout package.

Chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he has presided over record fundraising and has the party poised to build on the majority it gained two years ago.

He sees more work ahead.

Van Hollen, 49, who won re-election in 2006 with 77 percent of the vote and raised $2.2 million for this year's campaign, adds, "To try to responsibly redeploy our forces out of Iraq and focus on the threat in Afghanistan, along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

"In addition to stopping the bleeding from the financial markets and the credit markets to the rest of the economy, we also need to get the economy moving again," he continued, adding that regulatory reform of financial markets is an important next step.

Republican Steven J. Hudson, a 39-year-old ophthalmologist and attorney, talks about moving beyond partisanship. "We have too many politicians and special interests and power, and no one cares about the people any more - that's both Republicans and Democrats," he said. "And that's all I want to do, is fix this giant mess that the 110th Congress has gotten us into and the president has gotten us into."

A member of the Navy Reserve, Hudson served as flight surgeon for the White House aircraft Marine One during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He has raised $48,397. He talks about "streamlining" the government, addressing unemployment and focusing on education.

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