(By Guest Blogger– Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)
State Sen. Andy Harris Tuesday handily defeated businessman Rob Fisher in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st District seat in Congress, setting up a general election rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil – who two years ago defeated Harris by less than 3,000 votes out of more than 360,000 cast.
With all but a handful of precincts reporting, Harris led Fisher by a 2-to-1 margin district-wide. In Cecil County, Harris bested Fisher by 61 percent to 39 percent.
Fisher, an information technology consultant, poured nearly $500,000 of his own money into the primary race – enough to finance advertising on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August.
The 1st District encompasses the entire Eastern Shore along with portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties on the Western Shore.
While he appeared to have few, if any, ideological differences with the strongly conservative Harris, Fisher crafted himself as an outsider in a year of strong anti-incumbent feelings among voters – while seeking to characterize Harris, a 12-year veteran of the Maryland Legislature, as a career politician.
For Harris, who chose to largely ignore Fisher, this year’s primary was a cakewalk compared to two years ago – when he ousted GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, a party moderate who had represented the district since 1990. Gilchrest crossed party lines to endorse Kratovil prior to the 2008 election, and is widely expected to do so again this year – despite an 11th hour endorsement of Fisher in Tuesday’s GOP primary.
Kratovil, a former Queen Anne’s County state’s attorney who was unopposed for renomination Tuesday, is regarded as one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents nationwide this year. The Republican-leaning 1st District voted for the GOP presidential candidate, John McCain, over President Obama by a nearly 3-2 margin in 2008.
Harris, a physician, was widely thought to have been hurt in 2008 in the Eastern Shore section of the district by his status as a Baltimore County resident. Before announcing for a second run at the seat, he sought to remedy this by working part-time at a hospital in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore. He is an anesthesiologist with long-time professional ties to the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.
Since Kratovil is considered the only one of the eight Maryland House members in danger of losing aseat in Congress this fall, the Kratovil-Harris contest is expected to attract statewide attention – second only to Maryland’s other marquee rematch, between Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and former GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
As of the end of August, Kratovil had raised over $1.9 million for his re-election bid, with Harris not far behind at $1.65 million, for a total in excess of $3.5 million. With seven weeks to go until Election Day, this puts them on track to equal or exceed the total of $5 million — $3 million by Harris, $2 million by Kratovil – spent two years ago. And those totals don’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars more for advertising expected to be spent on the race by political party committees and independent groups.