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July 10, 2006

Campaign Journal 2006 - Part One

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Serving in the Maryland House of Delegates is an unforgettable honor. It's historical (no one can ever take away the fact that you have served), and nothing compares to walking into the House Chamber to do the business of the people of Maryland.

It's also fun (but a little disconcerting) to be identified everywhere you go, not for who you are, but for what you are. As fun and rewarding as it is to serve, there is only way to get and keep this job.

Unlike most jobs, this job requires an extended job interview that lasts several months. For the folks who have the job and desire to keep it, the interview becomes a critical assessment of their four-year record by the folks who aspire to take the job away. The incumbent, on the other hand, is often denied a similar, critical assessment of the challenger's history, since there often isn't a record to assess.

The job pays a little more than $40,000 per year, requires an extended period away from home during the winter months, and offers plenty of rubber-chicken-circuit dinners as a tangible benefit.

With that backdrop, the stage is set for a series of articles covering the campaign. There was some trepidation about this, as the challengers for the seat might benefit from seeing my strategic decisions detailed on these pages.

After considerable deliberation, the final decision was that the benefit to following a campaign from the inside would more than offset any potential risk. Besides, I'll hold back a few big curveballs (or maybe high, hard fastballs) for my opponents.

So, this whole thing really started back in January, while trying to decide whether I wanted or even deserved another term in the House.

Working to help get Mayor Jeff Holtzinger's transition completed, I was not as focused as I should have been on getting re-elected. I even considered the possibility of not seeking re-election, and pursuing a job with the City of Frederick.

The net affect of all of this was that I neglected an important aspect of a re-election campaign. I didn't raise a huge sum of cash, the infamous "war chest," designed to scare away potential challengers.

Several successful incumbents have used that strategy to ward off an opponent. Del. Joe Bartlett (R., Middletown) is one, and Del. Chris Shank (R., Boonsboro) is another. Both have accumulated a pile of cash that must appear intimidating to outsiders.

I question the logic of the strategy, in spite of Joe or Chris's apparent success. In Chris's case, he is very popular, and his popularity has been demonstrated in past elections. Joe has also posted large victory margins, and he runs with Del. Paul Stull, the very well liked chairman of the Frederick Delegation.

Their personal and political popularity, coupled with the very conservative tendencies of their districts has as much to do with their success as does the bank vault they sit on in an election year.

If a person is motivated to take a shot, they're going to do so, regardless of the amount of cash an incumbent has in their campaign chest. Undoubtedly, a less well-organized incumbent probably does seem like a more appealing target.

That's the one mistake I may have made in the run-up to the summer election season. First, focusing on helping Mayor Holtzinger get started, then relocating to Annapolis for the final Session of the 2002-2006 term, and finally trying to help my daughter Morgan with her wedding kept me occupied on things other than filing for re-election and opening a campaign account.

I suspect at least one of my two challengers viewed that delay as a sign of weakness, and an enticing opportunity.

In the space of 24 hours in the final weekend of filing, I went from having no opponent in either the primary or the general election to having a challenger in both.

I'll probably always wonder if that would have been the case if I had followed others and raised a big pile of campaign cash before the deadline.

So, the focus shifts from doing the work to keeping the job. That means having my people analyze four years worth of votes, combing through every single major vote to find the strengths and weaknesses. Better you do that on your own than have your opponent do so and surprise you with a question that doesn't have an easy answer.

Also, a new proposition is the concept of opposition research. Since this is a better-organized (and dramatically better staffed) campaign than four years ago, we have the ability to examine our opponents a little more thoroughly. Suffice it to say that if it's (whatever it might be) there, we'll at least be aware of it.

So, the fundraising begins with a vengeance. The amount or goal (it sounds better) doesn't belong here, but it will be more than the goal four years ago. Also, the designers are cranking up the flyers, signs, bumper stickers (actually, they'll probably be window clings this time around, as they leave no lasting damage), and other unavoidable campaign goodies.

You'd be amused at the length of time spent debating the merits of a particular design. Suffice it to say it's too much, and no one cares as much about this stuff as the campaign team does.

So, the kickoff was last Friday evening. The speech was a little different, focusing on why I think I deserve a second shot without regard to - nor mention of - any opponent.

The big door-to-door effort begins the week of July 17. I am a big believer in visiting people's homes to ask for their vote, even though a lot of doors don't yield a voter. I work from "walking lists," and I'll knock on the doors of likely voters, both Democrat and Republican.

I'm also going to incorporate a new twist that I had previously avoided. I've never been a big fan of "sign waving," that weird phenomenon where a candidate stands next to a big sign and waves at passing motorists. This year, I'm going to give it a try.

You'll start seeing the big signs going up in the next few weeks, and a big yard sign blitz beginning in early August. Of course, carnival and outdoor event attendance is mandatory, which is why last week found me in a dunk tank for cancer research sponsored by WFRE at Frederick's Fourth celebration in Baker Park.

Amazing what we'll do to get a vote, or just some attention! To that end, the next few months will be an assault on the senses of most voters as they face a phalanx of candidates, full of promises, visions, and a decent measure of bovine fecal material.

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