Bill Frank: Looking to lure Bush and Perot voters CAMPAIGN 1994 -- CONGRESS 2ND DISTRICT

August 18, 1994|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

He's a businessman -- not a lawyer -- who refuses to take money from special interest groups. He says he wants to go to Washington, make the tough choices and get out.

Sound a little like Ross Perot?

Bill Frank hopes so. The 34-year-old banker from Towson is running for Congress as the political outsider who will go to Washington to straighten things out, and then leave office, as Mr. Perot promised to do in the 1992 presidential campaign.

And in the 2nd Congressional District, Mr. Frank believes his conservative outsider status will help him win the Republican primary Sept. 13 when he goes against Timonium lawyer Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., 36, a seasoned politician with more money and political backing than Mr. Frank.

"The conventional wisdom is that Bob Ehrlich has this locked up," Mr. Frank said this week.

"But people are angry. They're tired of career politicians and lawyers. I can't tell you how many people have said to me, 'Thank God, you're not a lawyer.'

"This is a horse race, this is by no means in his pocket."

Mr. Frank is one of nine Democrats and Republicans running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the five-term congresswoman who is running for governor.

While Democrats hold a 2-1 edge in voter registration in the three-county district, the nearly 300,000 registered voters are mainly white, middle-class working people who in recent elections have favored Republicans and conservative Democrats.

For instance, George Bush garnered 44 percent of the vote in the district in 1992, while Bill Clinton got 36 percent and Mr. Perot a surprising 19 percent.

If he can tap into Bush and Perot voters, Mr. Frank said, his chances of pulling off an upset are good.

"We're finding that there are an awful lot of undecided voters out there," he said. And while "it's no secret that my name is not well known, what we're finding is Ehrlich's name is not well known, either."

Mr. Frank grew up in North Baltimore and was a graduate of Archbishop Curley High School.

He majored in political science at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg and graduated with honors in 1982.

Currently, he is an assistant vice president for public affairs at First National Bank.

So far, Mr. Frank has been trying to raise money without accepting funds from political action committees (PACs). He's raised $52,000 -- compared with Mr. Ehrlich's $123,000. Some $36,000 of Mr. Ehrlich's money has come from PACs.

Recently, while Mr. Ehrlich was at Martin's West for a Helen Bentley fund-raiser, Mr. Frank stood at U.S. 1 and Route 24 in Bel Air, waving at traffic. He would like to have been at the Bentley fund-raiser, he said, but his campaign can't afford to go to all fund-raisers.

Instead, Mr. Frank waved at passing motorists for 45 minutes, grabbed a quick dinner at McDonald's, and then headed to a nearby neighborhood to knock on doors. His wife, Jeanne, and daughters Kathleen, 5, and Meredith, 3, tagged along, as did campaign staffers Greg McMahon and Maureen Zitrick.

Mr. McMahon, the campaign manager who worked on Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest's successful campaign, had picked the Bel Air neighborhood with care. It's full of Republicans who have voted in primary elections.

As he announced himself, Mr. Frank had several people who said, "Good," when he told them he was a Republican. One woman was particularly pleased with his stand favoring capital punishment.

On other issues, Mr. Frank supports mandatory sentences, abolition of parole, term limits for Congress and welfare reform.

He is anti-abortion, except in case of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother.

On gun control, he said, "I would have voted for the Brady bill. . . . I think it's reasonable to have people wait five days to buy a gun. . . . But, by and large, I don't think gun control laws have been effective."

When it comes to political issues, Mr. Frank said, he is eager to contrast his views with those of Mr. Ehrlich. A debate is set for Monday in Edgewood. Another may come later.

If voters learn enough about him, he could win, he said.

He has been encouraged by a recent poll conducted by the Ross Perot-inspired group United We Stand America in Harford County.

A straw poll of local members had Mr. Frank winning by 57 percent of the vote, with the nearest candidate getting 15 percent.

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