Incumbent vs. upstart in redrawn 5th District

October 12, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

NANJEMOY -- He bounds to the microphone with practiced ease, jokes with the assembled faithful, bows to local officials and then tosses the incumbent's trump card: $500,000 in federal funds to turn this faded elementary school into a community center.

Some might call this "pork," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer tells the audience in this Charles County hamlet. But he prefers to call it "people."

Whatever it is, it sounds good to Wade Hampton, a 39-year-old farmer and builder who listened to the Prince George's County Democrat and plans to support him. "That's what it's all about," Mr. Hampton says, "to get as much appropriations in the area as you can."

But down the road in St. Mary's County, the federal Santa Claus routine doesn't work on restaurant owner Dan Rebarchick, who sees Mr. Hoyer as a tax-and-spend liberal. He plans to back GOP challenger Larry Hogan Jr.

"There's a very conservative group of Democrats down here," the apron-clad Mr. Rebarchick says as he pauses near his kitchen door. "Steny Hoyer's too liberal for most of them."

The race in the 5th Congressional District is a classic confrontation in a year of anti-incumbent outrage. Mr. Hogan, 36, a businessman who has never held office, is running against the Democratic Congress. Mr. Hoyer, 53, a member of that Congress for the past 11 years, is running against the Republican White House.

"I'm running against Congress," Mr. Hogan, a real estate broker from Upper Marlboro, often tells his audiences in his uphill quest for the House seat. "Their actions have brought this nation to the brink of economic ruin."

He says Mr. Hoyer's tenure on Capitol Hill and his Democratic leadership position make him partly responsible for the skyrocketing deficit, the $35,000 congressional pay raise and scandals that have infuriated voters.

"I want to cut wasteful federal spending, balance the budget," Mr. Hogan tells a breakfast gathering of Prince George's County business leaders. "I think [Mr. Hoyer's] brand of pork barrel politics is bankrupting this country."

Mr. Hoyer rises to disagree. Theatrically pointing to his opponent, he calls Mr. Hogan a "politician" who supported the economic policies of two Republican presidents at a time when the federal debt rose from $1 trillion to $4 trillion.

"Not once does he mention the leadership of the president, not once," the congressman says. "Ronald Reagan's leadership and George Bush's leadership have failed."

Until this year, the 5th District was tucked inside Prince George's County. But to make room for a majority-black district, as required under the federal Voting Rights Act, the 5th was redrawn.

Now, just 52 percent of the district is in Prince George's County, and 11 percent is in Anne Arundel County. The remaining 37 percent takes in the three Southern Maryland counties of Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's.

That addition makes the new 5th far different from its predecessor, which was a Democratic bastion. Mr. Bush easily carried Southern Maryland in 1988, as did Ronald Reagan twice.

As a result, Mr. Hoyer -- whose congressional record is decidedly liberal -- is repackaging himself for these new voters.

He invokes the name of John F. Kennedy at nearly every stop and talks about the need to maintain a strong defense, shore up the economy and rid the streets of crime. After voting against the balanced-budget amendment on two occasions, this year he supported it.

For the first time, the congressman has enlisted the campaign ZTC support of Democratic hawks, including Rep. G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery of Mississippi, the powerful head of the Veterans Affairs Committee, who joined him for a tour of a veterans' nursing home.

One of Mr. Hoyer's fliers notes that he backed a congressional resolution expressing support for the Desert Storm troops -- leaving out his vote against sending U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Hogan, meanwhile, has been running a standard Republican campaign after beating five other GOP candidates in the March primary. He vows to get government "off our backs and out of our pockets." His green campaign signs picture a small whisk broom emerging from a hinged Capitol dome with the words "Sweep Out Congress, Elect Larry Hogan."

Touring the district, he reminds voters he is a small businessman, cloaking himself in the GOP mantle of spending cuts, no new taxes and a presidential line-item veto.

He refers only occasionally to his well-known father. Larry Hogan Sr. served three terms as the 5th District congressman beginning in 1968.

Mr. Hoyer, from his seat on the Appropriations Committee, is backing up his "experience" theme with federal largess. He has pushed through numerous projects in the past few months, such as $200,000 for a Prince George's County park and $5.3 million for an explosives building at the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center in St. Mary's County.

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