ANNAPOLIS — Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin raised $1 million in two months. Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley collected double that in just one night. And a single day of golf with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. brought in $100,000.
Those impressive feats of fundraising by three potential statewide candidates came during the past two months, more than a year before voters will elect a governor, U.S. senator and dozens of other statewide, legislative and local officials.
Contributions are pouring into campaign treasuries in unprecedented amounts. Elected officials and challengers at all levels are raising ever-increasing amounts of money in what has become an endless chase for campaign dollars.
In 2002, Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, collectively raised $18.9 million. Their record is certain to be broken this year.
Mr. Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele had collected $5.1 million when the most recent campaign reports were filed in January. The governor’s campaign aides are talking about raising as much as $20 million.
Asked in January whether Mr. Ehrlich could maintain his scorching fundraising pace, Ehrlich campaign finance chief John Reith said, “I think we definitely can. We have a huge list of people who love the governor and really want to support him.”
Mr. O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who are planning to run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, were trailing far behind Mr. Ehrlich.
Mr. Duncan reported a balance of more than $1.5 million and Mr. O’Malley more than $1 million. But that was before Mr. O’Malley’s $2 million event at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and a $500,000 event for Mr. Duncan in Bethesda.
The U.S. Senate race also is expected to be costly, with Mr. Cardin at $1 million and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume at $250,000. Both are seeking the Democratic nomination.
If Mr. Steele runs for the Republican nomination as expected, the race could well attract a lot of national attention and bring a lot of outside money into the state.
One reason campaigns have become more expensive in Maryland is that the state is following a national trend of more sophisticated campaigns, with more money being donated by political action committees and more involvement by small donors brought into the political process through the Internet and grass-roots organizations.
Officials are thinking up new ways to pay for campaigns. Seven Western Maryland Republican delegates banded together this year to raise money for the 2006 election.
They began by bringing in a prominent Republican, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for an event that Delegate Richard B. Weldon Jr., Frederick Republican, said brought in between $13,000 and $16,000.
“I do think several of us will be targeted by the majority [Democrats]. Maybe this is a pre-emptive move to protect some Republican incumbents,” Mr. Weldon said.
Another big factor is the increasing competitiveness of the Republican Party in Maryland, opening the wallets of wealthy Republican donors who in the past were unwilling to give big sums to candidates they knew could not win a seat.
“There is this hard core that is going to give because they are dedicated to the party and to the candidates,” said Kevin Igoe, a Republican political consultant who was state party executive director at a time when his party and its candidates had to scrape for every dollar they could find.
“There is a much larger number of potential donors who want their money put to good use,” he said.