For Kratovil, there’s more to life than Congress

RIDGLEY, Md. — Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.) used to coach his sons’ soccer, baseball and basketball teams. Now, he finds out if they won their games by texting his wife.

Kratovil, a father of four boys ranging in age from 5 to 11, is one of many freshman members of Congress adjusting to his new life. Instead of hitting grounders, Kratovil is busy raising cash for what is expected to be a bruising reelection race next year.

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Kratovil, who turned 41 on Friday, raised an impressive $297,000 in the first quarter. But he misses his old life.

“If someone had told me before I ran the first time what it would take to do this, they would have needed to find another candidate, because I underestimated how much money we were going to need to raise and that whole part of it — the money-raising part of it — is so time-consuming and overwhelming,” he told The Hill.

Kratovil told The Hill that if he loses his reelection race, it will not be the end of the world.

“There is much more to life than being a United States congressman. Now, I think I can do a good job. I am hoping that I can find that middle ground, reasonableness, and sort of pragmatic approach. But if, at some point, I found that I could not have that balance between the family and the job, or if I for some reason lost, life would go on. I mean, I’d go back to coaching my kids.”

The former state’s attorney for Queen Anne’s County was the first Democrat elected to Congress from the 1st district in 18 years, succeeding Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.). Retaining the seat may be tougher than winning it.

Kratovil had 31 public events scheduled last week, which is about average for him, according to Tyler Patton, Kratovil’s district outreach director.

Thirty-plus events a week is difficult for any congressman, and the district, especially the part on the Eastern Shore, is mostly farmland where population centers are few and far between.

“[Kratovil] spends about 70-80 hours a week on the road,” Patton said.

It is not just the events that keep Kratovil away from his family.

Kratovil lives in Stevensville, Md. on the other side of the Bay Bridge, and commutes to and from Washington daily. He leaves his house at around 6:30 a.m., and does not return till late in the evening.

“Those first three months, with what we were dealing with, was pretty incredible,” Kratovil said. “What I was doing with a lot of those major bills is I’d get home 11 o’clock [p.m.] and I’d sit in my bed till 1-1:30 [a.m.] reading.”

On Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Kratovil attended the Caroline County Strawberry Festival in Ridgley on the Eastern Shore. The event was held in a park where Kratovil mingled easily among the crowd, talking to constituents.

Local politicians also attended the event, and some of them criticized Kratovil.

Debbie Rowe, mayor of Marydel, a small town of about 140 people in eastern Maryland, said she voted and campaigned for Kratovil in 2008. She said the two have known each other for years, but that doesn’t mean she will be supporting him next year.

“With how well I know him, if the election were held today I can’t say that I’d vote for him,” Rowe said.

During the campaign, Kratovil did not visit Marydel, and Kratovil’s campaign manager said that 75 people needed to be present for Kratovil to make an appearance, according to Rowe.

Rowe said she pleaded with the campaign manager to get Kratovil to come, but to no avail.

“It is really disheartening that someone you know for years would not come to Marydel,” Rowe said.

Kratovil’s opponent in the 2008 election, Maryland state Sen. Andy Harris (R), stopped by Marydel and met with a group of four people, a point Rowe emphasized.

“Harris wanted to know what he could do for me,” Rowe said.

Harris has announced he will challenge Kratovil in 2010. “Harris is going to give him a run for his money,” Rowe said.

A former mayor of Federalsburg, Md., Betty Ballas (R) argued that Kratovil does not pay enough attention to the Eastern Shore counties.

“I want him to be in my face all the time. Over on the Eastern Shore, we don’t have the votes to carry an election, but we pay taxes,” Ballas said.

In 2008, Kratovil won all eight counties on the Eastern Shore.

Maryland state Del. Richard Sossi (R), who was also working the crowd at the event, said Kratovil needs to make sure people know him. Sossi pointed to Gilchrest as an example.

Gilchrest in 2008 was ranked the most liberal Republican in the House by National Journal, even though Maryland’s 1st district leans conservative. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) beat now-President Obama by 18 points in the district, and President George W. Bush beat Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) 62-36 in 2004.

“The reality is, for a lot of the voters, it is a matter [of] if they met you, if they like you or they don’t like you,” Sossi said. “I mean, Wayne was in office for, what, close to 20 years. In voting, he didn’t change dramatically. He was always out of step [with the district].”

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Polls showed that voters thought Gilchrest was wrong on 75 percent of the issues voters on the Eastern Shore cared about, according to Sossi. But it did not matter. What mattered to voters was they knew Gilchrest, who endorsed Kratovil after losing to Harris in the GOP primary.

“We know Wayne. We trust Wayne,” Sossi said.

If Kratovil is going to win, he has to build a Gilchrest-like relationship with the constituents on the Eastern Shore, Sossi said.

Kratovil, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, voted for the stimulus package, a move that does not sit well with some voters on the Eastern Shore.

Kratovil justified his vote by saying that leading economists from the left and right and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed something had to be done.

However, for Ballas, the stimulus was a waste.

“That $250 that I am going to get at the end of May — in my account — is not going to change my life one way or the other. But when you multiply it by the number of people who are getting it, who might be — don’t need it — that is a lot of money,” Ballas said.

But Kratovil has voted against other spending measures, including Obama’s budget plan.

Kratovil faces a tough vote later this year on climate change legislation, which was approved mostly along party lines by the Energy and Commerce Committee last month.

Kratovil was noncommittal about voting for the bill, noting that he had not seen the final version.

“I do think that, like many of these issues, that the truth is somewhere in the middle. We do need to make change. It is not going to happen with a big push, and that is certainly what the Waxman bill is designed to do. We can’t be totally— we can’t separate that completely from the impact it is going to have on small businesses, and consumers, and ag[riculture]. And there has got to be a reasonable balance in that,” he said.

In 2008, Kratovil narrowly defeated Harris, attracting 49 percent of the vote. The rematch is deemed a toss-up.

There were a number of factors that helped Kratovil win, including turnout for Obama.

The other factor was how Harris ran his campaign. Many residents criticized Harris’s campaign ads as dirty.

Kratovil said he is not sure how he is going to get people excited about heading to the polls in next year’s midterm elections. One possibility, he noted, is the Maryland governor’s race, but he conceded excitement in that race will depend on the Republican candidate.

Sossi said, “The reality is that it is going to be a very tough race if Harris does everything right, and any misstep at all on the part of Frank or his party, I think it is going to come back to the Republican.”

This article was updated at 10:13 a.m. on June 2.