Incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) is melting the campaign finances of his Republican primary challenger, Steve Hershey, who features a modified version of the chocolate bar in his campaign signs and ads. But a last-minute flap over which candidate is endorsed by Robert Ehrlich, the expected Republican candidate for governor, has really heated things up.
Since no Democratic candidate has filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat in the 36th, the GOP primary will decide that race. (There are three Delegate seats in District 36 and one resident Delegate each from Queen Anne’s, Kent and Cecil Counties is elected by voters in those counties, plus half of Caroline County.)
Sossi also had no opposition in the GOP primary until a last minute challenge was filed by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., of Queenstown. (See previous Cecil Times report on the contest here: https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/36th-delegate-seat-with-gop-friends-like-this-who-needs-democrats/ )
Sossi has been ahead in the campaign fundraising race by a better than 3-to-1 margin but in the final days leading up to the Sept. 14 primary, the contest has taken on a war of words twist.
Hershey recently sent out a four-page flyer, citing his past state employment as a political appointee during the Ehrlich administration in Annapolis. The flyer seemed to suggest that Ehrlich, who is hugely popular among Republicans in his bid for another term as governor against incumbent Democrat Martin O’Malley, was endorsing Hershey for the Delegate’s seat.
That made Sossi see red. Sossi had received permission from the Ehrlich campaign to post his own campaign signs in tandem with Ehrlich’s around the 36th District and Ehrlich had earlier endorsed incumbent Republicans seeking to retain their seats in the House of Delegates. (Hershey has been pairing his signs with those of Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36. Hershey was the campaign treasurer for Pipkin’s failed bid for Congress two years ago.)
So Sossi took to his Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/richard.sossi?v=wall&ref=mf ) and he wrote on his “wall” about the “endorsement” flap: “Tis the election season. Because a very slick mailer, albeit misleading and specifically not approved, implied endorsement of my primary opponent, the Ehrlich campaign has taken the extraordinary step of approving a press release reaffirming his endorsement of my election.”
In the press release, supplied by the Sossi campaign, Ehrlich “reaffirmed” his support of Sossi: “Dick Sossi has a track record of fighting for our constituents and I look forward to once again working with Dick to return Maryland to a sound financial footing and to getting our fellow Marylanders back to work.” The press release also quoted Ehrlich as saying, “”There are some folks that talk the talk, but Dick Sossi walks the walk.”
In the latest Sept. 3 campaign finance reports to the State Board of Elections, Hershey does not include costs related to the controversial flyer. In his previous report, Hershey does include $850 in expenses, paid to a Georgia company, to set up his website, www.hersheyfordelegate.com . However, that site does not comply with Maryland elections law requirements for an “authority” tagline, stating the name of the campaign treasurer. His website has a box, stating “Paid for by Friends of Steve Hershey” but does not include the authority line or treasurer’s name.
Hershey’s campaign has been largely financed by a $10,000 loan he made to his own campaign, with just $942 in individual contributions, including several from family members. His latest Sept. 3 report listed $2,018 in expenses for printing yard signs and tee shirts but did not cover costs of a flyer mailing by a direct mail operation. Hershey’s report showed $$7,702 cash on hand for the final days of the primary campaign.
Meanwhile, Sossi still had $36,345 cash on hand, after a year-long fundraising push and spending for campaign ads, printing, signs and mailings. Most of the contributions to his campaign have been relatively small and based within the district. But in the most recent report, he received a $1,000 donation from the Maryland Realtors Political Action Committee.
Sossi’s report showed $1,815 for mailings by a direct mail business, which he said covered two mailings to district residents: one to newly registered Republicans in the district and another to senior citizens.
Cecil Times has called Hershey for comment and will update this report upon his response.
UPDATE: In the final days before the primary election, Hershey has sent out a slick four-page flyer, with pictures of Sossi purporting to show him nodding off or sleeping in the House chamber and accusing him of “sleeping on the job.” The Hershey attack flyer asserts “only your vote will wake Sossi up.” If the pictures were taken on the House floor, the angle is such that they would have had to have been taken by another Delegate or a Delegate’s legislative aide, since average citizens are not allowed on the floor. The flyer does not state a date or time when the pictures were shot, but the House often holds late into the night sessions.
Reaction to the flyer in the District has been swift and angry. On his Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi Sossi received support from Republicans and citizens who denounced the attack as “dishonest” and “slime.” Sossi called the attack a “dirty tricks smear campaign” and said constituents had expressed “disgust both with my opponent and his puppet-master.”
In case there was any doubt, the “sleep” flyer from Hershey was followed up by a separate flyer mailed to District residents by Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) declaring Pipkin’s endorsement of Hershey. The Pipkin flyer listed his own re-election campaign as the source of funds to pay for the mailing. (Pipkin is opposed in the Repubican primary by Donald Alcorn.)
The Hershey “sleep” mailer appears to have been planned well in advance as a last-minute ploy and seems to explain what had been a puzzling buzzword of his campaign: “energetic.” Sossi has long been the most “energetic” Delegate in the 36th, keeping a grueling schedule of attending community events in the sprawling, four-county district. Hershey has claimed he is the more “energetic” candidate on his campaign materials. It now appears it was all stage-setting for his last-minute attack flyer on Sossi.