ANNAPOLIS | In one short month, Democratic congressional candidate Frank M. Kratovil Jr. has narrowed the gap on the Republican favored to win Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, but the race is still far from a lock for state Democrats.
Mr. Kratovil has relied on an infusion of cash and staffers from one of Maryland’s most powerful Democrats, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, by way of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee, and strong support from longtime incumbent Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest earlier this year.
Republican supporters of state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who defeated Mr. Gilchrest in a bitter Republican primary, say those factors, combined with the flagging economy, have put what should have been a Republican safe seat into play this year.
In many ways, the race has still focused on Mr. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican.
“I love this place we call home. It’s more important to me than partisanship. Frank Kratovil shares our values; he’s a good man,” Mr. Gilchrest says in a television ad paid for by the Kratovil campaign, which aired last month.
Mr. Gilchrest, the incumbent since 1990, touted his environmentalist credentials frequently in the Eastern Shore district. But many say he lost the support of the Republican base when he was one of only two Republicans in Congress to support an Iraq troop pullout last year.
Republican activists recruited Mr. Harris to run against Mr. Gilchrest in the February primary.
Since his loss, Mr. Gilchrest has publicly endorsed Mr. Kratovil, an Eastern Shore prosecutor with deep roots in Maryland Democratic politics, and has actively campaigned against Mr. Harris.
The DCCC, chaired by Mr. Van Hollen, who represents Montgomery County, has also bought upwards of $1 million in television advertising to help Mr. Kratovil.
But congressional race handicappers say the race is still Mr. Harris’ to lose.
Mr. Harris, a Baltimore County senator, has relied on the 1st District’s tendency to vote for Republican candidates (despite its slight majority of registered Democrats) and strong backing from former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s campaign machine.
“I want to talk to my Democrat and independent friends about Andy Harris,” Mr. Ehrlich says in a Harris campaign ad that began airing this week. “Andy Harris is an independent voice with sound fiscal ideas, a reformer we can trust. He’ll make a great congressman.”
On the Democratic side, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland’s senior senator, has joined Mr. Kratovil on numerous campaign stops over the last few months, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has hosted a handful of fundraisers.
In the waning days of the campaign, both sides have increasingly turned to mass marketing to make their cases, relying on a cash stockpile of well over $4 million between the two campaigns to saturate the Baltimore and Eastern Shore airwaves.
The Harris campaign recently began airing a series of ads describing Mr. Kratovil as “liberal” and clueless,” reprising a theme the campaign relied on in the primary.
The Kratovil campaign has accused Mr. Harris of lying about a quote attributed to Mr. Kratovil, and called the Republican an “extremist.”