Candidates in Maryland's competitive congressional contests are increasing their spending significantly, with the two leading Democrats for Senate burning through cash faster than they're taking it in, a review of recent campaign finance reports shows.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the most prolific fundraiser in any of the state's races this cycle, spent $1.6 million on his Senate campaign in the final three months of 2015 — 41 percent more money than he collected, according to the reports.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards, Van Hollen's main opponent in the Democratic primary race for the rare open Senate seat, spent $670,000 — about 11 percent more than she earned — despite a much smaller bank account that will make it harder to maintain a deficit. Van Hollen has $3.7 million in the bank, compared with about $300,000 for Edwards.
The two are running to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Though political campaigns like to point to how much money they've raised each quarter, how much they spend can also offer important clues about timing and strategy. With the April 26 primary nearing, many campaigns are beginning to shift from a zealous fundraising mode to the expensive mechanics of opening offices and buying ads.
Both Senate campaigns have amped up their rhetoric around their opponent's finances.
"Donna's ability to close the gap in the polls is evidence of what we've known all along: Congressman Van Hollen's need to spend more resources to try to keep up and rebrand his record," Edwards spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement.
"Seventy-five percent of Chris Van Hollen's support comes from across Maryland, whereas the vast majority of Congresswoman Edwards' support comes from out-of-state donors," said Van Hollen spokeswoman Bridgett Frey, "not to mention a $1 million TV blitz from an outside super PAC."
Edwards, of Prince George's County, has benefited from a super PAC tied to Emily's List, the Washington-based group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Emily's List has so far declined to say whether it will spend more in Maryland.
Van Hollen's high "burn rate" in the fourth quarter was driven largely by the roughly $1 million the Montgomery County lawmaker spent on advertising in the Baltimore broadcast market.
As it stands now, it's not likely Edwards will have the money needed to sustain a large advertising campaign.
Only two Republicans — Del. Kathy Szeliga and Chrys Kefalas, a former aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — have raised more than $100,000 for the Senate race. Szeliga, who has led in early polling, has spent little of her money.
Spending patterns vary widely in the 4th and 8th Congressional Districts, Maryland's two open House seats.
Del. Kumar Barve, a Democrat running in the 8th District, had the highest spending rate among the top-tier candidates, partly because he has better funded competition, including former WJLA anchor Kathleen Matthews and businessman David Trone, who has spent millions on advertising.
"We're going to spend our resources as wisely and as targeted as possible," said Barve campaign manager Seth Maiman.
The 8th District, currently represented by Van Hollen, includes portions of Montgomery, Frederick and Carroll counties.
Former Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown is burning through money faster than anyone else in the 4th District. Like Edwards, he will find a more expensive campaign harder to maintain because he has less money in the bank than opponents Glenn Ivey and Del. JoselinePena-Melnyk.
"We've invested a lot in direct voter contact and developing a robust field operation early," Brown campaign manger Derrick Green said. "We will definitely have the necessary resources."
The 4th District, which Edwards now represents, includes portions of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.
Ivey, a former Prince George's County state's attorney, has been the top fundraiser in the race but also one of the most frugal campaigners.
"If we can save money by working harder," campaign manager Jesse Hassinger said, "we do it."