Freshman Representative Frank Kratovil is perhaps the most endangered Democratic incumbent, and that's saying something in a year full of vulnerable Dems. Kratovil won Maryland's 1st district in 2008 against conservative Republican state senator Andy Harris 49.1% to 48.3% a difference of just 2,852 votes.
Last time around, conservative Harris helped Kratovil by unseating nine-term GOP incumbent Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate, in the primary. With the help of the Obama wave and Gilchrest's endorsement, Kratovil was able to squeak by his opponent. This time Harris is running again, but the mood of the country favors him in the rematch. After all, the Harris-Gilchrest primary battle of 2008 has played out across the country, as Tea Party candidates have taken down some of the Republican Party's most entrenched politicians, from Senators Bob Bennett in Utah and Lisa Murkowski in Alaska to Mike Castle in Delaware. And that Tea Party energy is fueling Harris' race.
Not surprisingly, Harris has been hammering Kratovil for his votes for the stimulus and the climate-change bill. But the fishermen and tour operators of the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore who make up the bulk of this district's voters are no strangers to environmental concerns. Kratovil's vote for the climate-change legislation is less potentially damaging here than in other more industry-friendly districts. And Kratovil showed his independence of his party by voting against health care reform (he knew to take the hint when demonstrators burned a life-size likeness of him in protest of the bill in August 2009).
This cycle, Kratovil is still angling for an endorsement from Gilchrest, who early on threw his support behind defense contractor Rob Fisher, a moderate Republican who challenged Harris in Maryland's late Sept. 14 primary. Kratovil had been hoping to benefit from an ugly GOP primary as he had in 2008. But Fisher's candidacy fizzled, and he garnered only 35% of the vote.
Harris began preparing for this rematch early. A physician and naval reservist who served in Operation Desert Storm, Harris expanded his practice in early 2009 to include parts of the Eastern Shore; the move was intended to counteract accusations that he is an outsider since he lives in Baltimore's northern suburbs in the sliver of the district that's on the bay's western shore. Both he and Kratovil have aggressively raised money: $2.4 million for Kratovil and $2 million for Harris, though as of Oct. 13 Harris had more cash on hand than Kratovil, $1.6 million to $1.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Kratovil, 42, is a lawyer who worked his way up through the state's attorney's office. In 2002 he was elected state's attorney for Queen Anne's County, becoming the youngest state's attorney in Maryland's history. He has campaigned hard to keep his congressional seat, squeezing in his four young children's athletic games between a packed campaign schedule every weekend. Still, despite his incumbency and money advantages, Maryland's 1st District leans heavily Republican, and the winds this year favor the GOP. A Monmouth University poll this week found Harris beating Kratovil by 11 points, 53% to 42%.