Brock remains unknown in Md. CAMPAIGN 1994 -- U.S. SENATE

July 17, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

Bill Brock last ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976 in a failed attempt to keep his seat from Tennessee. Now, a generation later, he is seeking the same job in his adopted state of Maryland.

Despite a gilded resume that includes the chairmanship of the national Republican Party, a recent poll found that most voters here have never heard of him.

Between now and the Sept. 13 primary, Mr. Brock will traverse the state trying to introduce himself. He will emphasize his broad experience from his days as a congressman in the 1960s to his role as U.S. trade representative and secretary of labor in the Reagan White House. Along with those credentials, though, comes the accumulated baggage of more than 30 years in national politics.

As a freshman congressman from Tennessee, he voted against the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, the broadest of its kind since Reconstruction. During his six years in the Senate, Mr. Brock weathered several minor scandals involving his campaign and personal finances.

Past controversies could well become issues in the wide-open Republican primary race. His closest opponent -- Montgomery developer Ruthann Aron -- has already battered him on several points, including the charge that he is a "carpetbagger."

Ms. Aron has lived in the state for a little over two decades. The incumbent senator, Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, is a lifelong Marylander who has held his seat for 18 years. Mr. Brock says he has lived here full-time for the past 4 1/2 years.

Charges of carpetbagging have hindered the state's two most recent Republican Senate nominees -- Linda Chavez, who ran against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1986, and Alan L. Keyes, who ran against Mr. Sarbanes in 1988 and Ms. Mikulski in 1992.

Mr. Brock, however, is a far more formidable challenger. So much so that even some of those close to him were caught off guard when he decided to run in Maryland.

"I was surprised that he would want to get back into the political fray at this point in his life," said U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, a Missouri Republican and longtime friend. "I have to say I admire him for doing it."

Mr. Brock says he is returning because he sees a national Republican Party that is unfocused, a political discourse that is mean-spirited and a country giving up on its people.

"The only advantage of getting old is that you can take risk," says Mr. Brock. "When you're 63, you don't need the glory, and you don't need the perks, and you don't need the honor. If you're going to do something at this age, you do it because you believe it."

Over the past three decades, William E. Brock III has evolved from an ideologically conservative Southern congressman to a politically moderate Washington insider.

His career began in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he grew up as an heir to the family business, the Brock Candy Co.

Rich, handsome and ambitious, he rose into the leadership ranks of the company and the state Republican Party in the early 1960s.

In his second year in Congress, he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which gave the federal government the authority to sue to desegregate public accommodations.

Mr. Brock concedes the vote was a mistake. He said he based it, in part, on his experience in Chattanooga, where, he said, voluntary desegregation occurred without the help of federal law.

Although it happened three decades ago, the vote could resonate in this year's campaign, particularly among black voters in Baltimore and in Prince George's County.

Mr. Brock said he doubts the issue would stick. "I've done a lot better since. . . . I think most people in this state believe in redemption," he said.

During Mr. Brock's four terms in the House, his record included opposition to Medicare and support for legislation that reduced the voting age to 18. He also pushed to establish the volunteer army.

In 1970, he gave up his House seat to run for the Senate against Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr., father of the vice president. Some recall Mr. Brock's campaign as nasty and racially divisive.

Mr. Brock's "victory could be credited almost entirely to his sophisticated attempts to play on Tennessean's racial fears and animosities," says the Almanac of American Politics, a respected reference guide.

Mr. Brock calls the analysis "baloney" -- probably the work of a college sophomore.

But David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the race for Harper's magazine, sharply disagreed with Mr. Brock's recollection.

"It was a very ugly campaign," said Mr. Halberstam, who is a friend of the Gores. "If he's not embarrassed by it, he should be ashamed."

In the Senate, Mr. Brock became an advocate of campaign finance reform. Campaign finance, however, also became a political problem for the senator himself.

In 1973, it surfaced that a secret White House fund had funnelled a substantial sum of money to Mr. Brock's 1970 campaign. Then, as now, Mr. Brock said he knew nothing about the fund, known as "Operation Townhouse."

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