Contest In D.C. suburbs pit veterans against newcomers

November 02, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

One thing is certain in the new congressional district that includes a portion of Montgomery County and the bulk of Prince George's County. It will have a 40-something African-American heading to Congress in January.

The question is, will it be the veteran Democratic state lawmaker, or the Republican entrepreneur?

The Democratic lawmaker wastes no words about himself: "Al Wynn has a better record of involvement," declared the 41-year-old state senator from Prince George's County. "I have made tough decisions."

But, counters his Republican opponent, Michele Dyson, a 42-year-old business owner seeking political office for the first time: "The key issue is, we've got to create jobs and get people back to work. As an entrepreneur I can do that."

Meanwhile, on the other side of Montgomery County, Rep. Constance A. Morella, 61, is running for a fourth term in the House, facing Edward Heffernan, a 29-year-old former congressional aide running in his first political race.

A popular lawmaker who has dispatched tough opposition in the past, Mrs. Morella is expected by those familiar with the district's politics to capture another term easily.

The new majority-black district was created last fall by the legislature to satisfy the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act to boost minority representation in Congress. As a result, the 4th District will elect a second black Maryland lawmaker, together with the widely expected re-election of Rep. Kweisi Mfume from Baltimore.

Mr. Wynn has the decided edge in the district, given its 65 percent Democratic voter registration, his nearly 5-to-1 edge in campaign fund-raising and his political experience. The latest Federal Election Commission reports show Mr. Wynn has $493,000, compared to $105,000 for Mrs. Dyson.

"I feel very confident," said Mr. Wynn, a member of the state Senate since 1987.

"I think it looks relatively safe for him," said Del. Michael Arrington, a fellow Democrat from Largo. "Albert's a seasoned legislator. He has a record of service to the county."

Mrs. Dyson said that her polling puts her about 10 points behind but that she is hopeful that her recent spate of radio and TV ads will put her over the top.

A Silver Spring resident who heads Computer Information Specialists Inc., a communications company she founded with her husband in 1985, Mrs. Dyson paints her opponent as a tax-and-spend Democrat who looks only to government for answers. The Democratic candidate favors a federal public works program to repair America's deteriorating infrastructure and help ease unemployment.

"You got to get back to the basics," said Mrs. Dyson, echoing her campaign slogan, "Job creation and helping people help themselves." Like her opponent, she favors tax incentives to spur economic growth and small businesses.

She continually slams the Democratic senator, who serves on the Budget and Taxation Committee, for having a role in the state's fiscal condition.

But Mr. Wynn counters that 12 years of GOP rule in the White House is what has produced economic hardships.

"I do not agree with the trickle-down theory," said Mr. Wynn, pointing to the Reagan-Bush economic theory that tax breaks for the wealthy will cause investment and eventually produce widespread economic growth.

Throughout his campaign, Mr. Wynn has said he will be "A Voice for the People," touting his legislative work, including his co-sponsorship of gun control and abortion rights. He charges that his opponent's pro-abortion rights stand is negated by her support of President Bush, since the president is anti-abortion.

Mr. Heffernan, meanwhile, is the latest in a series of Democrats who hopes to unseat Mrs. Morella, a liberal to moderate Republican.

During campaign forums, Mr. Heffernan argues that as a Democrat he would be "a far more effective," member of the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Mrs. Morella's voting record -- she has one of the highest anti-White House scores among Republicans -- is out of place in Congress, he said. Republicans view her as a Democrat, and Democrats view her as a Republican, he said.

"The people of Montgomery County lose out," he said.

But Mrs. Morella labels herself an independent voice for Montgomery County, a theme she has used for the past six years. Brushing aside the effectiveness argument, she points to two bills she helped to push through Congress dealing with domestic violence.

One provides funds to promote the use of expert testimony in criminal cases to explain why battered women often stay in abusive situations; the other provides money to teach judges and court personnel more about domestic violence.

Del. Peter Franchot ran against Mrs. Morella in a bitter 1988 race in which he, too, questioned how her stands and party affiliation can help the county. She beat him with 63 percent of the vote.

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