Democratic mailings draw input in swing districts
Fliers, calls aim to protect incumbents
With the threat of an anti-incumbent movement looming this fall, some state legislators are polling constituents on issues important to them.
The Maryland House Democratic Committee is spending $165,000 in an ongoing mail campaign in 10 legislative districts that Republicans could target for takeover this fall.
The targeted mailers includes a contact card and survey already sent to between 6,000 and 10,000 registered Democrats and independent constituents in each district, according to a Democratic official familiar with the effort. A town hall invitation and legislative wrap-up will be mailed in the coming weeks.
Constituents of Del. Sue Kullen are among those receiving the brochures, which were sent beginning in January.
"It's nice to get a finger on the pulse of what folks are concerned about back home," said Kullen (D-Dist. 27B) of Port Republic, who said she has been pleased by the response.
The House Democratic Committee, which is the campaign arm of the House Democratic Caucus, is also paying for four reminder calls following each of the mail distributions. The caucus conducted a similar targeted mail program in 2006, but not during the legislative session. As of January's campaign finance filings with the state elections board, the 47-member slate reported just more than $150,000 on hand.
"It's not unlike any other type of polling where people want to find out what's on their constituents' minds," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis.
But election-year realities in philosophically conservative districts held by Democrats, such as those in suburban Baltimore, Frederick, St. Mary's County and the Lower Eastern Shore, largely steered this effort to those parts of the state.
Del. John L. Bohanan Jr. (D-Dist. 29B) of California, who has one Republican challenger to date, said the targeted mailings are a way of pooling Democratic campaign resources and are cheaper than individual solicitations.
"It's an efficiency of scale," he said.
State Republican leaders labeled it a frantic election-year effort to connect with disillusioned voters.
"They have not been listening to their constituents, and with an election coming up in November, they're trying to put up a facade that they're actually paying attention to what their constituents want," said Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Kim Jorns.
Not so, said Del. C. Sue Hecht (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick, who regularly conducts surveys to take her constituents' temperature on various issues. She hopes her participation in the targeted campaign will provide feedback she can use on the stump.
"You think, I know what's important for Frederick,' but people don't always agree with you," she said.
GOP officials likely will do their own targeted mailers closer to the election, Jorns said. For now, the party is focused on holding a series of nine town hall meetings across the state from April 5 to April 9, with Republican Party Chairwoman Audrey Scott reaching out to party foot soldiers and rank-and-file voters, she said.
The survey cards ask recipients to rank issues of importance in four categories: jobs/economy, education, crime prevention and issues of local interest that were tailored to each district with the incumbents' input.
The districts where the mailers are being sent were determined in part by looking at 2006 election returns, Busch said.
But it shouldn't be misconstrued as a party worried about losing seats in Annapolis, he said.
"I think you do this regardless of the political climate. No one knows exactly what the political climate is going to be in November," Busch said. "The pendulum swings back and forth much more rapidly [than it used to], and you have to have some kind of sketch about what's important to your constituents."
It's a smart strategy particularly this year to get an early measure of constituents' attitudes, said Michael J.G. Cain, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
"There is this instability in the electorate and a great deal of angst in the electorate for a variety of reasons, so it's a good idea for this group to get ahead of the curve making sure there's no surprises in November," he said.
Kullen, who has drawn one Republican opponent to date, believes her legislative work in Annapolis and her constituent service at home will insulate her from any anti-incumbent backlash.
"I certainly feel comfortable because of the level of experience that I have," she said.
In 2006, Kullen, running in her first election since being appointed to fill a vacancy in 2004, easily defeated then-Calvert County Commissioners' President David F. Hale, who was viewed as one of the GOP's best hopes to win a Democrat-held seat in the House of Delegates.
But Jorns said the tide has turned against Democrats this year.
"They are well aware that they haven't been listening to their constituencies, and now they're going to make a feel-good effort to try and show that they care," she said. "Talk is cheap. They can ask what their constituents want, but if they don't turn around and implement what their constituents want, it's moot."