In this year's pro-choice sweepstakes, four Howard County candidates for the state legislature are trying to convince voters that they support a woman's right to have an abortion just as much, or more, than their opponents do.
Almost every week since the primary election, the team of Democratic challengers Lloyd G. Knowles and James B. Kraft have exchanged barbs over the abortion issue with House of Delegate incumbents Robert H. Kittleman and Robert L. Flanagan, both R-14B, in letters to the editors of local newspapers.
The issue may seem murky because all four have adopted pro-choice positions, but Knowles and Kraft continue to try to draw distinctions between the views of the Democratic team and those of the incumbents in District 14B, which covers central Howard County and part of northern Montgomery County.
Their success or failure in making gains on the abortion issue against pro-life Republican incumbents could determine their fate in the Nov. 6 election. Flanagan and Kittleman say voter polls show them comfortably ahead of Knowles, a former Howard County councilman and Kraft, a former county Democratic Party leader, in the predominantly Democratic district.
The Democrats say they more strongly support abortion rights, and charge that the Republican team is playing both sides of the issue. They note that the incumbents are against Medicaid funding for abortion and have wanted women seeking abortions to register with the state.
Flanagan and Kittleman, on the other hand, are telling voters that abortion is not an issue in the campaign because all the candidates support a woman's right to choose.
Statewide, abortion played a key role in the primary elections, leading to the defeat of several anti-abortion incumbents. Gov. William Donald Schaefer since has revealed his public position to support a woman's right to choose.
The National Abortion Rights Action League of Maryland lists the names of Kraft and Knowles on a voter's guide assembled by its political action committee, but has not endorsed any of the candidates.
"It's tough when you have a challenger who is fully pro-choice and an incumbent who is almost fully pro-choice," said Karyn Strickler, executive director of the Maryland NARAL. "It's frustrating for us to distinguish who's saying they're pro-choice and who really is pro-choice."
Strickler said she was annoyed that Kraft and Knowles are continuing to use their inclusion in the voter's guide as an endorsement. The Democrats maintained that they believe the listing is "one level" of endorsement and that they deserve pro-choice support.
Kraft said the Republicans are indicating some sympathy for the pro-life movement by running on a slate with Christopher J. McCabe, the Republican candidate for state senator in District 14, who is a strong opponent of abortion rights.
"It's sending a semi-message to the anti-choice side," he said. "There really is a strong distinction between us."
Kittleman, an eight-year incumbent, said he and Flanagan are running with McCabe despite their disagreement over abortion because they agree on a number of other issues affecting the district.
"All four of us are in favor of putting [the U.S. Supreme Court decision of] Roe v. Wade in place in Maryland and a woman's right to have abortions," added Flanagan, who is vying for his second term. "They have this sort of definition of pro-choice which says if you're committed to pro-choice, you have to be committed to Medicaid funding for abortion with no restrictions."
Knowles predicted that a bill designed along the guidelines of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion will be adopted in the next legislative session and will be taken to voter referendum. Kraft said solid pro-choice candidates are needed in both houses of the General Assembly to prevent anti-abortion legislators from loading the bill with restrictive amendments that would render it unpalatable to voters.
On other issues, Kraft and Knowles said they would provide local jurisdictions with more zoning options to make it easier for them to control growth, reject any proposals to build a professional football stadium in Baltimore and work to rebuild the Port of Baltimore.
Although a state-appointed commission reviewing Maryland's taxing structure has not yet revealed its recommendations on how the state can help its poorer jurisdictions, both said they were open to the process and denounced their opponents for having voted against forming such a commission.
"I don't support the redistribution of revenues. I do support targeted aid to poorer jurisdictions," said Flanagan, adding that he was discouraged by reports of failures in the Baltimore City school system.
"I'll take my taxpayers' dollars and use it to help them, but the solutions aren't readily apparent," Kittleman added. "When they propose solutions that I think are going to solve their problems, I'll be there with Howard County taxpayers' dollars, but I don't think it's going to do much to change the tax structure."