Democrats eye Morella's district Pondering a challenge: Montgomery County's moderate Republican in Congress apparently will face a challenge in next year's election.

The Political Game

November 07, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

REPUBLICAN Rep. Constance A. Morella, the five-term congresswoman from Montgomery County, may have a fight, or two, on her hands next year.

Though the 64-year-old Ms. Morella has been more in step with her liberal county than conservative followers of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Democrats apparently are serious about making a run in November to take back her 8th District seat.

And she probably will have a primary race March 5, with an attack from the right launched by a candidate such as first-time Del. Barrie S. Ciliberti or Ruthann Aron, who lost the GOP primary for U.S. Senate last year.

Both have been mentioned as possibilities.

On the Democratic side, Del. Kumar P. Barve, 37, the two-term delegate from Montgomery County's 17th District, already has filed a certificate of candidacy with the Federal Election JTC Commission to run in the primary.

Mr. Barve, the county delegation chairman, has been raising money and seeking endorsements since summer. He is hopeful that Ms. Morella has been tarred by the actions of the new GOP Congress and is vulnerable.

He is not alone.

Del. Nancy K. Kopp, 51, an experienced, liberal hand, is not ruling out a bid. Another two possible though less likely candidates are Montgomery's state senators, Brian E. Frosh, 49, and Christopher Van Hollen Jr., 36. Neither has told anyone "No" to the question.

For the state legislators, a run for Congress next year would be a free ride in that they would not have to quit the General Assembly, whose members don't stand for re-election until 1998.

Democrats believe Ms. Morella could be vulnerable because of the ideological line she has been forced to toe.

"Connie has been put in the unfortunate -- unfortunate for her -- position of choosing between the interests of her constituents and the interest of Newt Gingrich," Mr. Barve said. "And she has been voting with Newt 70 percent of the time. When she was a liberal-moderate Republican in a Democrat-controlled Congress, she could more easily vote her conscience. But she no longer has the luxury of voting the interest of her district with impunity."

Ms. Kopp, an intellectual who is better at charting policy than glad-handing on the campaign trail, confirmed that she has been approached by Democrats on the national, state and local levels and encouraged to run.

"There's a pretty strong feeling that the majority of folk in Montgomery County is becoming more concerned about what's happening in Congress and wants to see our congressional representative speaking up for the district more," Ms. Kopp said.

So, will she run?

"We will have a strong and serious candidate," Ms. Kopp responded. "We don't know yet who it will be. I have told people, in response to their inquiries, that I would consider it," she said. "I will say that at this point, while I am flattered by their support, I think it's quite unlikely that I'll be running."

Nevertheless, she will not dismiss the possibility.

Whoever challenges Ms. Morella will find her tough to beat. She is popular with constituents, as well as politicos. She enters the election season with about $375,000 on hand, and the GOP is willing to pump millions of dollars into campaigns nationwide to protect its seats on the Hill.

Yet, Mr. Barve believes that the next year's race will be not so much about Ms. Morella as it will about GOP control of Congress.

"This election's going to be about Newt Gingrich, his policies, his leadership," Mr. Barve said.

"If Connie Morella loses, that makes a major statement not about her -- though she's been voting with them the vast majority of time -- but about Newt Gingrich."

Black Caucus plans summit in Annapolis

Celebrating 25 years as the collective African-American voice in the legislature, the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus will hold its first summit -- "Building Bridges and Setting the Agenda to Reclaim Our Communities" -- this weekend in Annapolis.

The fund-raising program begins Friday with a series of workshops by political, academic and religious leaders. It culminates with a $250-a-head reception and dinner, where the caucus' eight senators and 28 delegates will get up-close-and-personal with state business leaders and others. The summit concludes Saturday with a prayer breakfast.

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