How many votes could $4.8 million buy for a Republican candidate seeking the congressional seat held for years by the late Elijah Cummings, a revered Democrat?
The answer so far appears to be about 12,000.
Kim Klacik, the woman in stilettos who was all over local television with slick commercials leading into Tuesday’s general election, had by Wednesday evening notched 68,161 votes in her quest to win the 7th District seat.
Her Democratic opponent, Kweisi Mfume, the man who currently holds the seat (and held it years ago, previous to Cummings), won the election with 167,872 votes, with more yet to be tallied.
Now, you might say, well, the 7th District, like most of blue Maryland, is dominated by registered Democrats. So, 68,161 votes is impressive for a novice Republican candidate trying to unseat a well-known Democrat.
And I agree: Klacik has so far outperformed the last Republican effort in the 7th District, that of Richmond Davis in 2018, by about 12,000 votes. Davis, a Howard County attorney, received 56,266 votes as the Republican challenger to Cummings in the late congressman’s last campaign. (Cummings died in October 2019; Mfume won a special election to finish out his two-year term in April.)
But here’s the thing: Davis spent only $17,539 on his unsuccessful 2018 campaign, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
Klacik, meanwhile, had spent more than $4.8 million as of Oct. 23, according to the FEC. (Her final total will probably be higher than that because Klacik was able to raise more than $7 million after President Donald Trump touted and shared her campaign video.)
So, let me do the preliminary math for you.
In 2018, each vote for Davis came to $3.20.
In 2020, each vote for Klacik comes to $70.60. The final numbers will likely be different but, still, that’s a lot of dough for little return.
And Klacik’s lowest tally was in Baltimore, where she made the biggest investment.
Klacik came to fame in the summer of 2019, when she produced a video of trash-strewn, rat-infested areas of the city. She tweeted the video, and that led to a nasty Trump tweetstorm — is there any other kind? — about Baltimore, Cummings and the 7th District. Trump called Baltimore a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” Klacik became an instant right-wing celebrity, picked up thousands of followers on Twitter and got an appearance on “Fox & Friends.” She eventually became a candidate for Congress, challenging Mfume in April’s special election and again in the 2020 general.
In her long-form campaign commercial on YouTube, she walks city streets and points to mounds of trash. She says Democratic leaders abandoned Black people as one of the most “prosperous, powerful and populated” cities in the country “fell into ruin.”
She stomps on a sidewalk and suddenly, SimCity-like, trees grow and buildings rise as Klacik claims to have a plan to restore abandoned houses, create jobs and foster new businesses. She refers to “tens of millions” of unidentified people who “cared about our Black lives more than our own Democrat leaders.”
It’s a commercial better suited for a campaign for mayor than for Congress, with a direct appeal to Black voters.
But that appeal did not work. The 7th District is one part Baltimore, one part Baltimore County and one part Howard County. Klacik has picked up only 8,719 votes from city residents so far. (Mfume had nine times as many.) Her performance in Howard County is better than Richmond’s, but only marginally better in Baltimore County.
Klacik speaks confidently, like the broadcaster she once wanted to be, and her commercials were smartly produced. But they didn’t fool anybody and probably offended many of the people she wanted to represent in Congress.
No one around here is content with the rate of violent crime, the amount of trash, the struggles of the public schools and the rows of vacant houses. But those are not problems you solve by stomping high heels on a sidewalk.
At one point in the YouTube video, after speaking of the city’s decline, Klacik asks, “What happened?” She then skips a huge piece of history known as white flight. The city’s population in 1950 was just under 950,000. It started steadily falling in the years after school desegregation and the construction of highways to the suburbs. Just under 600,000 people live here today.
Republicans, led by Trump, ignore all that history and blame the city’s problems on Democrats when, in fact, the GOP has shown no interest in cities and urban problems for decades.
It’s true that the city has suffered from political failures and corruption. But the problems go beyond that. They are rooted in generational poverty and drug addiction, the falling population and a shrinking tax base. Fixing Baltimore requires the hard sweat of developing strategies, working with a wide array of constituencies, setting goals and raising private and public funds to pay for them.
Kim Klacik lives in Middle River (in Baltimore County, and not in the 7th District). If she cares about Baltimore as much as she claims, she should move here, run for City Council and tell other Republicans to cut the snark and get involved in solving problems.
Or, instead of sending more campaign donations to “own the libs,” her followers could just contribute to the needy nonprofits that do the hard, dogged work of improving the lives of Baltimoreans.