ELKTON — First-time candidate Al Miller isn’t looking like a political novice, bringing in a staggering $32,399 during his Republican primary campaign for Cecil County Council District 3, according to the latest round of campaign finance reports.
Miller’s haul through June 15 is greater than even County Executive Alan McCarthy’s 2016 campaign, which raised around $25,000 through the general election. So far, Miller has spent more than $21,500 on yard signs, billboards, website design, newspaper ads, fundraisers and giveaway items, along with other items.
“This has been the most humbling thing that has ever happened to me in my life,” Miller said Tuesday, thanking his father, fiancee and friend Richard Hall for helping organize his campaign. “If you had told me that we could raise this kind of money, I would have said you were crazy.”
What makes Miller’s fundraising even more impressive for a council race is its large diversity of primarily in-county donors, as well as its lack of four-figure donations — Miller has only three: Rising Sun farmer Jesse McMillan who has donated $1,750, North East lawyer Peter Kirsh who’s donated $1,350, and $2,000 from the Republican Club of Cecil County, which endorsed Miller earlier this year. The vast majority of Miller’s donations range from $100 to $300.
In the last few days of the campaign, Miller said he’ll likely be sending out one more mailer and trying to get in front of as many voters as possible.
“Basically I just take off on Sundays right now to try to enjoy church and the family,” the farmer and Cecil Count Fair Board president said. “This is new for me, so I follow the lead of those who know and are guiding me.”
For the incumbent in Miller’s race, Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger, the disparity in fundraising isn’t something he’s losing sleep over. While his haul of $8,650 in this election cycle is only about one-fourth of Miller’s total, Schneckenburger notes that he is able to reuse his many campaign signs from the 2014 campaign, an advantage Miller doesn’t have.
“We had a lot of signs stockpiled, so anyone running new is going to have to come up with additional expenses to buy their first batch of signs,” he said Tuesday.
Schneckenburger said that he has received additional donations since the latest reporting deadline. So far, he’s received three donations that exceed four-figures: $1,400 from Devon Construction in Elkton, $1,000 from an LLC associated with real estate agent Don Horton and $1,000 from LLCs associated with Kenneth Michael, a well-known developer from Prince George’s County involved in the rebuilding of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center.
“I’m in pretty good shape, I have enough funds for another round of mailers. I think I’ve done everything that I wanted to do from a fundraising standpoint,” Schneckenburger said.
Like his opponents, Schneckenburger said he plans on knocking on constituents’ doors, doing some sign waving and organizing his election day poll and get-out-the-vote efforts over the waning days of the primary campaign.
Thomas Wilson, the third opponent in the three-way Republican District 3 race, which will be decided in the primary without a Democratic challenger, is running a largely grassroots campaign, having raised only $790 to date and spending $515 on yard signs. His donations have come from a small number of supporters, many of whom are connected to the Cecil County Campaign for Liberty activist group.
Meanwhile in District 2, where incumbent Council President Joyce Bowlsbey isn’t seeking re-election, it is a tale of two different candidates. Bill Coutz, the vice president of the Fair Hill Races/Cecil County Breeders Fair, has raised roughly $9,500 in his campaign, spending roughly $8,300 on yard signs, billboards and giveaways. Like Miller, much of Coutz’s funding has come from dozens of local, small donations. His only four-figure donation is $1,000 from the Republican Club of Cecil County, which endorsed him earlier this year.
His opponent, Rich Lewandowski, a property preservation company owner, has yet to exceed $1,000 in fundraising.
The winner of their race will face Democratic newcomer Cody Kirk in the November general election, the only council race to be contested past the primary.
In District 4, the Republican county council race — which will decide the seat without a Democratic challenger — is shaping up to be an interesting one. Newcomer Ed Larsen has largely self-financed a $1,800 campaign while Councilman George Patchell has used a rare strategy for an incumbent: raising little if no new funds. In all three reporting periods, Patchell has reported not exceeding the minimum $1,000 threshold.
On Tuesday, Patchell said he didn’t feel the need to be out holding fundraisers and seeking contributions like he did four years ago, because he still had his campaign’s primary expenditure: yard signs.
“I already have all the signs from the last election, so really the only thing I didn’t do this time around was put up a billboard,” he said.
Patchell noted that his quieter re-election campaign was in part due to time management when considering family obligations as well as his duties on council.
“I don’t think people necessarily recognize that when you’re on council, you have to be at a meeting almost every Tuesday night through the June primary and often you have to give up other afternoons and evenings for budget meetings,” he said. “It’s difficult because your opponents don’t have to sit in these important meetings, but can instead be out campaigning against you.”
While Schneckenburger said he could understand his colleague’s thinking, he disagreed that incumbents begin the campaign at a disadvantage.
“We get introduced in front of thousands of people at many events over four years and anybody running against you doesn’t have that option,” he said, noting he’s tried to attend in as many community events as he could over his tenure to be accessible to constituents. “The late Wayne Norman gave me advice that I still think about: ‘Act like the incumbent.’ So that’s what I try to do.”