Democrats have numerous possible opportunities to replace Republican members of Congress with Democratic challengers in 2008. Republicans are retiring at rates that must be alarming to the Republican Party. While it is difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of Republican retirement announcements, I believe that at least 26 Republican House members and 6 Republican Senators are leaving office. Only 6 Democratic House members are confirmed as retiring. Zero Democratic Senators are currently known to be leaving office. Some of the Democratic House members are seeking Senate seats.
It is understandable that the media has focused on these seats but the best news for Democrats are the number of setting Republican incumbents from relatively safe Congressional Districts in deep trouble. This column will look at one Democratic challenger who is likely to retire a long-term Republican. The challenger is Frank Kratovil from the Maryland 1st Congressional District.
Most observers without a deep understanding of Maryland’s politics would likely overlook the Kratovil opportunity. The Republican incumbent Wayne Gilchrest has been successful in painting a very Right Wing voting record as “moderate”. For example, Gilchrest has an awful, lifetime labor voting record (in the teens). Gilchrest almost always votes against the interests of working Americans and for the interests of huge corporations. Historically, he has voted on the overwhelming majority of issues with the Bush Republicans.
Gilchrest occasionally picks an issue (often environmental) to break with the Republican Right on and publicizes the break extensively. There appears to be a pattern of making sure that the votes where Gilchrest strayed from the Republican fold were not decisive votes that impacted eventually passage of actual legislation. Although recently Gilchrest sometimes votes on Iraq against the Bush White House, the Bush Administration is currently backing Gilchrest in a bitter three way Republican Primary according to published reports.
The Maryland Republican Party is in full civil war mode. Two strong Republican state senators are running against Gilchrest in the February 12th Republican Primary. State Senator Andy Harris has the backing of 7 out of 8 Republican State Senators representing parts of the Congressional District along with most of the Maryland Republican hierarchy including the former Republican Governor Ehlrich. The other State Senator running for Congress is E.J. Pipkin. Pipkin is a former junk bond trader who has a huge personal net worth and seemingly unlimited personal political ambition. He has already run statewide as the Republican nominee for U.S Senate but lost badly in the general election.
Harris and Pipkin are both running highly negative campaigns. Both are serious challengers. If Gilchrest only faced one challenger, he would be unlikely to survive the Republican Primary. One recent poll showed that 60 percent of Republicans have negative views of Gilchrest. Republicans are busy spending huge amounts of money driving up each others negatives. Whoever, wins the Republican nomination will emerge a much weaker Republican candidate than is normal in the district. Even in Maryland’s most conservative Congressional District, it is a bad year to be running as a Republican!
Frank Kratovil is a very strong Democratic candidate. He does face other Democratic Primary opponents but they are unlikely to beat Kratovil. The Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller are all supporting Kratovil. In addition, the Maryland AFL-CIO and the teacher unions are strongly supporting his campaign. Many local Democratic officeholders and organizations in all parts of 1st District have endorsed Kratovil with more expected this week.
He has demonstrated strong fund-raising abilities and will likely have some national financial support in his bid for Congress. The Internet has connected a national Democratic donor base with strong challengers all over the nation. These donors are likely to prove some financial support to Kratovil. Republicans are having difficulty raising money and have many incumbents in deep trouble.
Kratovil is the State’s Attorney from Queen Anne’s County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Kratovil is tough on crime. He shares the traditional values of the most rural and small town, Maryland Democrats of the 1st Congressional District. He is young, bright, energetic and attractive with a proven record of winning the votes of independent, Democratic and Republican voters. He has strong appeal in the rural communities and small-towns of the Eastern Shore that have often supported Gilchrest in the past.
The 1st District is rapidly changing as new people move into it. Many of these new voters are not inclined to vote Republican in 2008 and have no loyalty to Gilchrest. With Gilchrest losing much of his traditional support and Republicans engaging in civil war, the Democrats are very likely to win this Congressional seat.
Readers can learn more about Frank Kratovil by visiting his campaign website at http://frankkratovil.com/.