7 Democrats battle in wide-open 6th Congressional District race CAMPAIGN 1994 CONGRESS 6TH DISTRICT

September 11, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly stated the amount of money raised by Don DeArmon, candidate for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 6th Congressional District. Mr. DeArmon has raised $32,580.

The Sun regrets the error.

With two days left before Election Day, an eclectic field of seven candidates is engaged in a wide-open race for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 6th Congressional District.

It includes two former politicians trying to stage comebacks, a pair of Capitol Hill staffers running on their Washington experience, a University of Maryland professor making his first bid for public office and a furniture store owner who doesn't even live in the district.


Given the large field, the winner could take the nomination with as little as 25 percent of the vote. Based on name recognition, endorsements and campaign finance reports, political insiders say the three favorites appear to be former state Del. Paul Muldowney, former Frederick County Commissioner Galen R. Clagett and University of Maryland public policy professor Steve Crawford.

The Democrats are vying for the right to take on freshman Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in November. Early in his term, Mr. Bartlett appeared vulnerable to a challenge for the GOP nomination after several missteps -- including his remark that a list of scholarship winners, which included Asian Americans, lacked "normal names."

In recent months, Mr. Bartlett appears to have rebounded, and he is expected to coast to his party's nomination.

Until the last few weeks, the Democratic primary race had been a sleepy one with no issue dominating.

The dynamics appeared to change, however, as potentially damaging information surfaced about a top contender, former congressional aide Neil S. Dhillon.

Mr. Dhillon entered the political scene with a bang last January when his campaign finance reports showed that he had raised a campaign fund of nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Political insiders in the district -- which includes Western Maryland, Carroll County and much of Howard County -- immediately pegged the one-time aide to former Rep. Beverly B. Byron as a player.

Last month, though, The Sun reported that Mr. Dhillon had not voted in a local or national election between 1980 and 1992, a time when he was a political science student in Washington and a staffer on Capitol Hill.

And last week, The Sun and the Frederick News-Post reported that Mr. Dhillon had been convicted of assaulting a bank official in Virginia in 1989. The dispute arose over the repossession of Mr. Dhillon's car. The victim, Lydia Carter, who is black, said Mr. Dhillon threw her against a wall and cursed at her, calling her a "black bitch" and using other vulgarities.

Mr. Dhillon, who is of Indian descent, said he did not recall using those words, but conceded that he said some things he shouldn't have. He received a 10-day suspended jail sentence for the conviction and paid a $50 fine.

"He's suffered some grave wounds here, and the sense is he's just not going to be able to recover," said state Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat.

Emphasizing his years of political experience in Washington, Mr. Dhillon is pledging to bring jobs to the district, particularly the economically depressed Western mountains.

Having raised $380,000 so far, he is the only candidate to advertise in the expensive Baltimore television market.

One political beneficiary of Mr. Dhillon's troubles has been fellow candidate Paul Muldowney, who served as a state delegate from Washington County from 1979 through 1986.

Widely regarded as the most conservative Democrat, Mr. Muldowney is the only one who does not support a woman's right to choose an abortion. Mr. Muldowney, who co-owns a concrete block company, is emphasizing term limits and welfare reform in his campaign.

With the exception of Mr. Dhillon, Mr. Muldowney has amassed the largest campaign fund in the race, $144,000 -- $50,000 of which came from his own pocket.

Mr. Muldowney is a millionaire whose campaign treasury gives him a distinct advantage over most of his opponents. Among a field of relative unknowns, he has a greater ability to get his name out through mass mailings and radio advertisements in a district that includes farmland, coal fields, and suburbs of Baltimore and Washington.

But Mr. Muldowney also has potential liabilities. Blunt-spoken and sometimes abrasive, he has alienated important groups of voters over the years.

As floor leader in the state House of Delegates in 1984, he helped push through a pension reform bill that significantly changed retirement benefits for teachers. The move was aimed at protecting the state's bond rating, but it infuriated the Maryland State Teachers Association, which claims 8,000 members in the 6th District.

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