- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 8, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | It’s still too close to call Maryland’s 1st Congressional District race between Democrat Frank M. Kratovil Jr. and Republican Andrew P. Harris.

The counting of absentee ballots began Thursday and widened Mr. Kratovil’s lead to about 1,600 votes. Elections officials will begin counting provisional ballots Monday. It’s not clear how many provisional ballots were cast.

Mr. Kratovil and Mr. Harris kicked up a lot of dust in their bare-knuckled campaign. But it could turn out that Libertarian Richard Davis — a calmer, quieter presence — was the deciding factor in the race.

Mr. Davis received more than 8,300 votes, potentially draining crucial support from Mr. Harris.

Could the dentist from Hurlock play the spoiler?

“You betcha,” said Matthew A. Crenson, political science professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “And the guy he’s going to spoil it for is probably Andy Harris.”

Mr. Davis received about 2.5 percent of the nearly 329,000 votes cast Tuesday.

The outcome will determine the state’s only newcomer to Congress after six Maryland Democrats and one Republican, all incumbents, held onto their seats in Tuesday’s balloting.

Harry Basehart, retired director of the Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University, said it’s a significant showing for a third-party candidate in such a close race.

“It’s hard to read into their minds,” Mr. Basehart said of the voters who supported Mr. Davis. “But it just seems to me that Harris has been hurt by this.”

Some political observers say Mr. Davis’ support could have come from people who have tended to vote Republican in the district, but decided to go in another direction because of the nation’s financial crisis.

“Maybe they were just sort of unhappy with the Republican Party and the way it was going in this election,” Mr. Basehart said.

Tom Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also said a significant number of the votes that went to Mr. Davis likely would have gone to the Republican in past elections.

Mr. Davis’ showing is likely due to the primary loss of Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, who is more moderate than Mr. Harris and ended up crossing party lines to endorse Mr. Kratovil. Mr. Gilchrest has held the seat for 18 years.

“I think Gilchrest’s loss in the primary has put Kratovil within shooting distance,” Mr. Schaller said.

During the candidates’ final debate at Chesapeake College, Mr. Davis’ positions appeared closer to Mr. Harris’ than to Mr. Kratovil’s. For example, neither Mr. Davis nor Mr. Harris favor much federal involvement in education. Both oppose abortion, though Mr. Davis allowed for exceptions in cases of rape. Both opposed the $700 billion economic bailout for financial institutions.

However, the two candidates differ on the war in Iraq, with Mr. Davis opposing it and Mr. Harris a strong supporter.

As a Libertarian, Mr. Davis said he thinks the function of government should be limited to protecting citizens from force or fraud, leaving people to interact with each other however they choose.

Mr. Davis, who was making his first run for office besides a bid for vice president of a local fire company, said Thursday it was hard to tell where his votes came from. He said most of the feedback he received was from people upset about negative campaigning between his opponents.

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