Q uick quiz: Who are Kostas Alexakis, John McKinnis, Brad Jewitt and Chuck Floyd?
Stumped? Okay, this may be easier: Who are Wayne Gilchrest, Al Wynn, Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen? They're congressmen representing Maryland voters, and the gents in the first question are the challengers they face this fall.
But don't be surprised if you don't hear much from the challengers between now and November. Not one of these races is considered competitive by the Democratic or Republican parties. Not one of the challengers has raised even 20 percent of the money that the incumbent has piled up for his reelection campaign.
In the wink-wink world of gerrymandering, Maryland's district lines are drawn to make it extremely difficult for a sitting congressman -- no matter the party -- to be ousted.
Nationwide, congressional elections have become about as competitive as they were in the old Soviet Union. In 2002, only 40 of 435 House races were considered competitive. Only eight incumbents were defeated, four of whom lost because they were redistricted into battles against other incumbents.
Even though the state's voters broke the Democratic hegemony and put Bob Ehrlich into the governor's mansion in 2002, every single incumbent in Maryland looks good to go for reelection this fall.
The sacrificial lambs running against the reigning members lag the incumbents by almost every measure: experience, money, prospects.
Jewitt, 34, has spent his adult life in the Marines. "I'm a pretty realistic guy," says the Republican challenger to 14-term incumbent Hoyer, who has raised $1.04 million to Jewitt's $58,000. The 5th District in Southern Maryland and outer Prince George's County is growing more conservative, but Democrats still outnumber Republicans by nearly 2 to 1.
Jewitt has quickly realized that most voters see congressional races as "a skewed process. The district maps have no rhyme or reason," he says. "Some people spend a lot of time rigging this so that the competitiveness is over before the race begins. The process is broken."
Nonetheless, Jewitt, who served briefly as mayor of tiny Berwyn Heights before he was called up for stateside duty in the Iraq war, is campaigning full time. "It becomes tough for me to have real interaction with voters," he says, "because they don't know whose district they're in, and unless I have really detailed maps or access to the Internet, I can't tell them."
What purpose does his campaign serve, then? Jewitt says that over time, he and other challengers can whittle away at incumbents' hold on office. And he says Republican challengers are useful for Ehrlich, who "is in essence campaigning now for 2006 through us, appearing at our fundraisers, getting around the state."
On the other side of the political divide, Democratic challenger Alexakis is taking on seven-term incumbent Gilchrest in the 1st District, which includes the Eastern Shore and parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Alexakis, making his first run for office, owns restaurants and a technology company in Falls Church. His primary residence is in McLean. He also rents an apartment in Baltimore and says he occasionally stays on the Eastern Shore on his boat.
His last financial report showed he had raised $5,500 to Gilchrest's $357,000. "Part of my strategy has been to lie low and not raise any alarms," Alexakis said. That may be the best line ever from a candidate explaining why he's getting creamed in fundraising.
Alexakis has a realistic sense of the situation. When I asked if there were any competitive congressional races in Maryland, he said, "No, I don't think so. Of course, I'm hoping my race can be. The last gubernatorial race proved that Marylanders are not really die-hard Republicans or Democrats."
True enough. But the governor's race, not subject to legislative toying with district lines, offered a real choice.
Can that kind of choice be restored to congressional races? Iowa and Arizona have stripped legislatures of the right to redistrict, giving that task to independent redistricting commissions.
Result: In 2002, Iowa had more competitive races than California, New York and Illinois combined.