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Election 2024 Government & Politics

On eve of candidate forum, Dunn poll shows 2-way race with Elfreth as he swamps all foes in fundraising

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

As 18 Democratic candidates in the 3rd congressional district prepare for their first forum in Annapolis Wednesday evening, a poll conducted recently for former U.S. Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn shows him with a slight lead over state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel).

The poll comes just ahead of candidate forum scheduled for Wednesday at a church in the Eastport neighborhood of Annapolis — and while political professionals are still absorbing the candidates’ latest campaign finance statements, which were filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday.

Coincidentally or not, the poll, in the roughest sense, mirrors the candidates’ fundraising strength.

Dunn’s poll, conducted April 7-10, found the political neophyte, who gained notoriety for battling with insurrectionists on Jan. 6, 2021 and writing a best-seller about it, was the preference of 22% of the voters in the initial matchup, while Elfreth, who has served in the Senate for five years, took 18%. State Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel) was next with 8%.

Upswing Research and Strategy, Dunn’s Washington, D.C.- based polling firm, asked survey respondents about Dunn, Elfreth, Lam, three other state lawmakers in the race — Dels. Mark S. Chang (D-Anne Arundel), Terri L. Hill (D-Howard) and Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel) — along with labor lawyer John Morse and businessman Juan Dominguez.

Morse was the choice of 3% of voters in the initial matchup, while Chang took 1% and “others” took 4%. A significant 44% of voters were undecided.

In all, 22 Democrats are competing to replace U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who has chosen not to seek a 10th term.

When what the pollsters described as “balanced positive information” was provided to the survey respondents about Dunn, Elfreth, Lam and Morse, Dunn took 32%, Elfreth took 28%, Lam and Morse came in at 10% each, while Chang was at 1%, “others” took 3%, and undecided was at 22%.

The poll of 400 likely Democratic primary voters had a 4.9-point margin of error.

“There’s still a few weeks to go until Election Day, but with his well-funded grassroots campaign, Harry Dunn is well-positioned to become the next Congressperson from Maryland’s 3rd District,” Upswing’s pollsters wrote in a memo.

Dunn certainly has plenty of cash for the May 14 primary homestretch. He reported raising an eye-popping $3,774,045.56 in his first three months as a candidate, most of it in small donations from more than 100,000 individuals. He reported spending $2,084,135.69 through March 31 and finished the quarterly reporting period with $1,689,909.87.

While Dunn has sworn off corporate and special interest political action committee money, as he has attempted to cast himself as a defender of democracy, he did receive some noteworthy contributions from politicians’ PACs, including donations from two former Republican members of Congress who have fallen out of favor with ex-President Trump and his followers. The Country First PAC, affiliated with former U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), donated $2,000, as did the Republicans in Congress Empowering America PAC, which is controlled by former Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.).

Dunn also received donations from PACs affiliated with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Eric Swawell (D-Calif.), Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), former Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) — herself a former a law enforcement officer — and a $2,500 from the Democracy Defense Fund.

Elfreth reported raising $513,109.50 in the first three months of the year, bringing her fundraising total to $915,685.64 since she entered the race in the fall. Elfreth spent $317,780.89 in the first three months of the year and finished March with $568,660.57 in her campaign account.

Elfreth reported receiving substantial donations from at least a dozen of her fellow elected officials, along with PAC donations from the International Association of Firefighters ($5,000), the National Education Association ($5,000), a pro-Israel group called the Mid-Manhattan PAC ($5,000), the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund ($2,500) and from half a dozen other business and labor PACs.

Lam reported raising $283,763.88 in the first quarter of the year and $639,868.87 overall. After spending $107,867.14 from Jan. 1 to March 31, he had $505,046.23.

Notable PAC donors to Lam include the Asian-American Fund PAC ($5,000), Aspire PAC, which is controlled by the Asian-American and Pacific Islander congressional caucus ($2,500), and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the chair of that caucus.

Lam, Elfreth and Dunn are all on TV now, and Elfreth is also benefiting from an independent expenditure ad being run on her behalf by a PAC affiliated with AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby. Several of her opponents have criticized her for benefiting from an organization whose donors include several prominent Trump supporters.

Of the other state lawmakers in the 3rd District race, Chang reported raising $61,321 in the past three months and $128,196 overall (a figure that includes $16,000 from his own pocket). After spending $16,666.36 in the past three months, he had $104,346.83 in the bank as of March 31.

Hill, who is making her second bid for Congress, raised $59,316 from Jan. 1 to March 31 and $134,456 since joining this race. She spent $61,046 over the past three months, finishing March with $70,983.99 on hand.

Rogers reported bringing in $203,598.25 in the first quarter, which included $64,000 of his own money. He’s raised $294,390.25 overall and reported $171,222.60 in the bank on March 31 after spending $115,203.89 since Jan. 1.

Among some of the other Democratic candidates, attorney Michael Coburn brought in $229,985 in the first quarter of the year, though $150,000 came from his own wallet. He spent $93,052.15 and had $136,932.85 in his war chest on March 31.

Morse, who has several union endorsements and is backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, raised $115,587.93 in 2024 and spent $21,431.25, finishing March with $94,156.68 on hand.

Dominguez, who began this election cycle by running for U.S. Senate but pivoted to the House race at the beginning of the year, reporting raising $74,793.98 since Jan. 1, including $12,000 from his own pocket. He spent $95,020.99 and had just $9,344.91 on hand at the end of March.

The leading Republican candidate, Berney Flowers, a retired Air Force officer, reported raising $22,438.45 in the first three months of the year, which included $10,000 of his own. He spent $24,124.98 and banked $8,159.13 at the end of March.

Three leaders pick up key endorsements

Elfreth and Lam picked up key endorsements this week. Lam won the backing Tuesday of three environmental groups — Friends of the Earth Action, Oil Change U.S. and the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund. All three groups noted his record during his nine years in the General Assembly.

“Dr. Clarence Lam’s unwavering commitment to championing climate and environmental justice in the Maryland legislature is proof that he prioritizes the well-being of his constituents above Big Oil’s profits,” said Allie Rosenbluth, political director at Oil Change U.S. In Congress, he will undoubtedly carry this legacy of bold advocacy for the health and safety of his community and the climate forward.”

Elfreth was endorsed at an event Monday night by two Howard County council members, Christiana Rigby (D) and Opel Jones (D), which could be significant if she continues to make incursions with Howard County political leaders. On X, formerly known as Twitter, Elfreth said of the two local officials “We share a commitment to education and healthy inclusive communities in Maryland.”

For good measure, to counter Lam’s environmental endorsements earlier in the day, Elfreth announced Tuesday evening that she’s been endorsed by the Sierra Club. That endorsement had not hit the green group’s website Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Dunn is set to announce Wednesday that he has won the support of Susan Turnbull, a former Maryland Democratic Party chair who was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.

“It is only by securing our democracy that we can protect reproductive freedom, combat climate change, and invest in needed infrastructure in Maryland,” Turnbull said in a statement. “Harry Dunn is a hero. We need more heroes in Congress — he is the right person at the right time.”

Wednesday evening’s Democratic candidate forum, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m., is being held at Eastport United Methodist Church in Annapolis and is hosted by the Speaker Busch D30 Democratic Club in partnership with the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee and the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee.

The event will be moderated by Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel County Community College, and Keanuú Smith-Brown of the Annapolis Board of Supervisors of Elections. After the forum, a straw poll will be held of District 30 Democratic club members.

Maryland Matters will have a look at fundraising in the 6th and 2nd District races soon.


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On eve of candidate forum, Dunn poll shows 2-way race with Elfreth as he swamps all foes in fundraising