Some pretty big names are backing Carroll County Commissioner Jeffrey Griffith as the Democrat runs for the Maryland Senate against Republican Larry Haines. There's Gov. William Donald Schaefer. There's Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. And there's Robert Haines.
Robert Haines. Brother of Larry Haines, the man who's running against Mr. Griffith.
Yesterday, Robert Haines, a Baltimore County schoolteacher and registered Democrat, appeared at Mr. Griffith's side to tell reporters that Jeff Griffith -- an eight-year county commissioner, an English Ph.D. with a law degree, a supporter of abortion rights -- is a better candidate than brother Larry Haines -- owner of a Westminster real estate brokerage and appraisal company, veteran of Republican campaign work, "conservative Christian" and an opponent of abortion.
"I would say here and now that if I were a Republican I would still be supporting Mr. Griffith," Robert Haines said.
Larry Haines' reaction?
"I think Mr. Griffith probably courted him and encouraged him to do this," the Republican candidate said. "I'm not disturbed at all. I love my brother very much."
Then he added evenly, "If [Mr. Griffith] wants to drag him in his swamp, fine. I'm a candidate who will not let anybody drag me down in the swamp."
With two weeks left in the campaign, observers say the race between two very different candidates looks very close -- and the fight is becoming more intense.
Mr. Griffith says Larry Haines, an active member of Westminster's Church of the Open Door, is a "religious fanatic" who would base his votes on his religious convictions.
Mr. Haines says Mr. Griffith is simply too liberal to represent a largely rural 5th District, which has 80 percent of its population in Carroll County and 20 percent in Baltimore County.
But in addition to the ordinary liberal-conservative conflict, abortion is a centerpiece of the contest.
Mr. Griffith is staunchly in favor of abortion rights. And in the wake of last March's anti-abortion Senate filibuster, abortion-rights groups want him in Annapolis.
Abortion-rights advocates need 32 votes in the Senate -- two-thirds of the body -- to shut down any delaying tactics by abortion opponents. Counting sympathetic incumbents and abortion-rights candidates considered likely to win Nov. 6, supporters of abortion rights say they will have the needed 31 votes.
"I'm the 32nd vote," Mr. Griffith said yesterday during a news conference in Owings Mills. If he's elected, he added, "we can guarantee no filibuster and can guarantee a sane abortion law in Maryland."
He defined that law as "one that does not limit access to basic medical services," a law that protects against "unacceptable intrusion into private matters."
The largest abortion-rights groups in the state -- the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion Rights Action League and Choice PAC -- have sent Mr. Griffith money and offered campaign advice. NARAL also has sent a staff assistant to work on the campaign for two weeks.
This week, Mr. Griffith begins airing cable television ads meant to push hard on the abortion issue -- which proved powerful enough to unseat four anti-abortion incumbents in the primary. "Who chooses?" the ads ask. "I trust you to make your own choices."
Mr. Griffith also has received $7,500 from the Schaefer campaign and $3,000 from Senate President Miller's fund.
Last weekend, Governor Schaefer campaigned in Carroll County alongside Mr. Griffith, who will mail more than 14,000 pieces of campaign literature that describes himself as "the sensible choice" and a candidate with "mainstream values."
Mr. Haines, however, says he's the mainstream candidate. "In Carroll County, having faith in God and going to church are mainstream," he said.
With the help of $1,250 from Maryland Right to Life, Mr. Haines defeated Sen. Sharon W. Hornberger, a supporter of abortion rights, in the September primary. He says he's running without large contributions, depending on small donations and "grass roots" support. "We'll continue to work that way," Mr. Haines said.