Bentley's decision will launch the career of one eager congressional candidate

November 10, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau Staff writer Robert Timberg contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- When Helen Delich Bentley holds a Baltimore news conference this morning, those paying the closest attention will include politicians who hope her waterfront appearance will launch their congressional careers.

Two Baltimore County members of the House of Delegates are poised to launch campaigns for Mrs. Bentley's congressional seat after her expected announcement that she is running for governor. A swarm of other politicians is circling, either planning to run or assessing the possibilities in the second district.

Democrats are eager to win back the seat that Mrs. Bentley wrested in 1984 from Democrat Clarence D. Long, a 22-year House veteran, in her third try for the office.

Republicans are counting on Mrs. Bentley's success, the increasingly conservative bent of the electorate in the 2nd District and a backlash against President Clinton to hold on to the seat.

Republican Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., 35, serving his second term in the General Assembly, plans to announce his candidacy for Mrs. Bentley's seat tomorrow. Democrat Gerry L. Brewster, 36, a first-term delegate, who left on a 10-day trip to Israel Saturday, would not say flatly last week that he plans to run. But he left little doubt in an interview that he will be in the race if Mrs. Bentley isn't.

While both of them have been pointing toward this race for years, it is unlikely that either will be unopposed in next September's primaries.

Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who tried to unseat Mrs. Bentley in 1986, indicated this week she is considering a race.

"We'll see," said the oldest daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who went to work three weeks ago at the Justice Department once headed by father. Told that a Baltimore County Democrat had said that she plans to do a poll to assess her chances, Mrs. Townsend replied, "I think I probably will."

Mrs. Townsend said she is a special assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno and expects to be named a deputy assistant attorney general.

Another Democrat who has run for Congress in the past, Barbara O. Kreamer of Aberdeen, said she will be a candidate. Mrs. Kreamer is a former Harford County councilwoman and two-term member of the House of Delegates who gave up that seat to challenge Eastern Shore incumbent Democrat Roy P. Dyson in the 1st Congressional District in 1990. Mr. Dyson defeated her handily but then lost the general election to Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest.

Redistricting moved Mrs. Kreamer into the 2nd District, where tTC she says she will run as a "candidate for the future."

The district now includes all of Harford County, most of northern and eastern Baltimore County and a sliver of northern Anne Arundel County.

No other Republican has stepped forward, but several members of the General Assembly are considered possible candidates.

A Brewster-Ehrlich race would pit against each other two lawyers from different backgrounds who were classmates at Gilman and Princeton and now serve together on the House Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Brewster, the son of former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster, who once held the 2nd District seat, grew up on a Monkton farm while Mr. Ehrlich grew up in working-class Arbutus.

They will be competing in a district made more conservative by General Assembly redistricting which, following Gov. William Donald Schaefer's lead, carved out a safe seat for Mrs. Bentley. Though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, the 2nd District went for former President George Bush last year, giving him 44 percent of its vote, compared to 36 percent for President Clinton and 19 percent for Ross Perot.

Mrs. Bentley has won the seat five times, establishing a lock on the district by combining good constituent service, conservative positions on national issues, aggressive pursuit of federal dollars for the district and strong ties to the port of Baltimore and labor unions that traditionally support Democrats. It is a combination that has particular appeal to working-class voters in Dundalk and Essex in eastern Baltimore County and one that will be hard to duplicate.

"The Eastern end -- that's the battleground," said Kevin Kamenetz, chairman of the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee.

And, said Mr. Cardin, "The key [to electing a Democrat] will be differentiating between Bentley and the Republicans."

C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, chairman of the Baltimore County Council, saw it differently, saying a key battleground will be the rapidly growing White Marsh-Perry Hall area.

Mrs. Bentley admitted yesterday that it would not be easy for the GOP to hold the seat.

In an interview last week, Mr. Brewster, a Democrat, emphasized his appeal to Republicans. He volunteered that he voted for Ronald Reagan and George Bush in 1984 "over Mondale and Ferraro," pointed out that he worked as a staffer for former Republican Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr., who defeated Mr. Brewster's father in 1968, and said he enjoys the support of Republicans like tennis star Pam Shriver.

He also seeks to appeal to Perot voters, saying they are "a fairly large grass roots movement." He lists on his resume membership in United We Stand America, Mr. Perot's organization.

"I want to know what a significant number of my constituents are hearing and thinking," he said of that membership. "In many ways, I share their frustration with a lack of action on some issues in Washington."

On fiscal issues, he and Mr. Ehrlich have similarly conservative positions. Mr. Brewster favors term limits for elected officials at the state level and at the congressional level only if they apply to all members of Congress, while Mr. Ehrlich is opposed to term limits. Both men have a pro-choice position on abortion.

Mr. Ehrlich says a campaign will cost from $750,000 to $1 million while Mr. Brewster puts the figure at $1 million.

Both have put together campaign committees and expect to have a large corps of volunteers.

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