Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn faces Republican John B. Kimble in a rematch of a bizarre 2000 contest for Maryland's 4th District, which covers most of the Washington suburbs in Prince George's County and part of eastern Montgomery County.
Mismatch may be more accurate. Kimble has run against Wynn four times since 1996, losing each time. Two years ago, he drew only 13 percent of the vote to Wynn's 87 percent.
Kimble is known for his unorthodox campaigns. In 2000, he hired Wynn's estranged wife, Jessie, and used her personal attacks in a taped telephone message to voters. (The couple have since divorced.) Another year, Kimble offered to pose nude for Playgirl magazine if that would help him win.
Wynn is a deputy Democratic whip and serves on the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. He has headed the Congressional Black Caucus's task forces on campaign finance reform and minority business and is a prominent defender of small business, government contractors and minority workers.
Kimble, a self-described animal behaviorist, favors requiring a federal license to own a pet. He has called for universal health care, free prescription drug coverage for seniors and full tax deductibility for health expenses.
Republicans hope that the redrawn 4th District, which gained more than 20,000 new Republican voters, will help the party, although the district remains a Democratic bastion.
Wynn had banked $267,252 as of Sept. 30, while Kimble had not raised the $5,000 needed to be required to file a federal election report.
In the 5th District, which includes parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and all of Southern Maryland, 10-term Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer faces Republican Joseph T. Crawford of Charles County.
The incumbent is dean of Maryland's congressional delegation and sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He co-chairs the House Democratic Steering Committee, which decides committee assignments, and is ranking Democrat on the House Administration Committee. He was a prime backer of national election reform legislation, which passed Congress this month.
Hoyer, who has announced interest in making a third run for the House Democratic leadership if the party takes control of the chamber, has campaigned extensively for and spread money to Democrats around the country.
Joseph T. Crawford, a conservative Republican activist who dropped out of the running for his party's nomination in 2000, is campaigning on the theme that Hoyer is too liberal for the district.
A member of the Charles County GOP central committee and the party's slate of presidential electors in 2000, Crawford is a Waldorf computer and business consultant who has campaigned unsuccessfully for clerk of the county Circuit Court and the state House of Delegates.
Crawford has worked with groups across the range of the party's social conservative base, including the Christian Coalition, Charles County Right to Life and Concerned Families of Southern Maryland.
Crawford says he supports President Bush's war on terrorism, gun rights and maintaining Republican control of the House. He opposes abortion and nontraditional families.
Hoyer had $513,199 on hand as of Sept. 30. Crawford did not raise the threshold $5,000 required to file a federal campaign finance report.
The real nail-biter race is in the 8th District, which for 32 of the past 40 years, voters have chosen moderate Republicans to represent them in Congress. The longest serving of them all is the current incumbent, Rep. Constance A. Morella.
During eight terms in office, Morella has compiled one of the most liberal voting records of any House Republican, frustrating opponents with her ability to reach across party lines and hold onto a seat that, to judge by voter registration numbers alone, should elect a Democrat.
But, this year, she has earned another distinction. As she runs against Democratic state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., she is widely regarded as one of the most vulnerable House Republicans.
At stake in this year's mid-term elections is control of the Congress. Morella is at the top of the Democrats' target list as the party struggles to wrest the GOP's slim majority in the House. The Democratic-led General Assembly used reapportionment to drastically change her district's boundaries, lopping off her strongholds in northern Montgomery County, adding reliable Democrats in parts of Silver Spring and Takoma Park and appending heavily black precincts in western Prince George's.
In Van Hollen, she faces the toughest challenger of her career. The lawyer-lawmaker relied on a grass-roots outpouring to score a come-from-behind primary victory against a better-funded, better-known member of the Kennedy political dynasty.
During his 12 years in the General Assembly, he has played key roles on contentious issues, helping to push through the state's largest-ever funding increase to public schools, protections for HMO patients, gun trigger-lock legislation and measures to help protect the Chesapeake Bay.
Morella has made Van Hollen's role in redrawing the district a major campaign issue, arguing that Democrats diluted Montgomery County's power on Capitol Hill by splitting communities into different congressional districts in a blatantly partisan attempt to oust her.
As she has in previous elections, she is emphasizing her constituent service, her work on behalf of the district's many federal workers and for major funding increases to huge federal employers such as the National Institutes for Health. She also touts her work on women's issues ranging from remedying gender inequities in medical research to helping victims of domestic violence.
On many top issues, the candidates agree. Both support abortion rights and stricter gun regulations; both earn high marks from environmental groups; both oppose the White House's Iraq strategy and the privatization of Social Security.
But they split on President Bush's $1.4 trillion tax cut: Morella voted for it, while Van Hollen says that cuts to the estate tax benefit the wealthy and should be repealed to pay for other priorities. Van Hollen supports covering prescription drugs under Medicare, while Morella voted for a less expensive GOP plan backed by the pharmaceutical industry. Morella is a free-trader; Van Hollen believes current agreements do not offer adequate worker and environmental protections.
The campaign platform of a third candidate in the race, independent Stephen Bassett, advocates exposing what he calls the government's coverup of knowledge about extraterrestrial life.
The two leading candidates have raised huge sums. As of Sept. 30, Morella reported total contributions of $2.2 million -- $1.6 million still in the bank -- while Van Hollen reported nearly $1.7 million in total fundraising. He had just over $504,000 left.