District One gets a little nastier (and more crowded)

First I’ll start with the crowded part. Baltimore County resident and onetime Ehrlich Administation official Robert Banks jumped into the First Congressional District GOP race this week. Banks cites his campaign as the “middle ground” between the hardline conservatism of Andy Harris and the moderate record of incumbent Wayne Gilchrest. So it’s another guy to send Ten Questions to and once he gets his website up (if he has one) I’ll be sure to link to it so we can all see what the middle ground truly is.

As well, according to the Maryland Board of Elections website another Democrat is in the fray, Anne Arundel County resident Steve Harper. Only Democrat Christopher Robinson among the previously announced candidates has yet to officially file.

Now the nasty part. In today’s Daily Times article on the First District race, Congressman Gilchrest is quoted:

“(Harris) will need $1.5 million to get 40 percent of the vote,” Gilchrest said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think Harris can get 40 percent of the vote. Once people know his philosophies, he’ll get 20 percent of the vote.” (emphasis mine)

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With Harris being a well-funded opponent who enjoys name recognition on the Western Shore, it’s very likely given the number of people now in the race that the winner will be the one with the largest plurality rather than the majority. However, this is not the largest number of opponents Gilchrest has faced – in 1990 he beat seven opponents to win nomination. Did a little hunting on the Maryland Board of Elections website, looking up each election Gilchrest ran in and how well he did:

  • 2006 – unopposed in primary, won 68.8% in general election.
  • 2004 – 61.9% in primary over one opponent, won 75.9% in general election.
  • 2002 – 60.0% in primary over two opponents, won 76.7% in general election.
  • 2000 – unopposed in primary, won 64% in general election.
  • 1998 – unopposed in primary, won 69% in general election.
  • 1996 – 65% in primary over five opponents, won 62% in general election.
  • 1994 – 65% in primary over three opponents, won 68% in general election.
  • 1992 – 47% in primary over four opponents, won 51% in general election.
  • 1990 – 29% in primary over seven opponents, won 57% in general election.
  • 1988 – 55% in primary over one opponent, lost with 49.6% in general election.

In that 1988 election he lost to Democrat Roy Dyson, the man he’d beat two years later.

Conventional wisdom would hold that Gilchrest gains a little bit of an advantage over his opponents with each one that enters the race because even if they get a small percentage it’s more likely to come out of the anti-incumbent sentiment that’s expressed in almost every election. However, one thing I’ve never seen is a job approval poll on Wayne Gilchrest. We all know President Bush’s approval ratings run now in the upper 20’s, but what about Wayne’s numbers – particularly among the GOP voters? Granted, I have a small circle of friends who are mostly of the politically connected type but many of them are quite frustrated with Gilchrest’s antiwar and generally moderate stance.

Further, the moderate Democrats who Gilchrest gets a bump of support from in the general election can’t help him in the GOP primary unless they switch parties, something they only have until November 19 to do. Most of the heavy campaigning likely won’t begin in earnest until after the holidays and by then it will be too late for Gilchrest supporters who are registered Democrats to help him if they see one of Wayne’s opponents surging ahead in the polls. It will also make for an interesting general election dynamic as the Democrat nominee will have to walk a tightrope between the moveon.org types who are taking over the party, particularly on the Western Shore, and the more moderate Humphrey-style Eastern Shore Democrats.

It makes for one of the best Congressional races in the country and definitely will be a bellweather for the 2008 general election.

Crossposted on monoblogue.

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