DeJuliis, Ehrlich eyeing fight in fall A leading Democratic, incumbent look past 2nd District primary

Campaign 1996

February 26, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Amid low-profile 2nd District congressional primary campaigns, Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis and Republican incumbent Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. already are eyeing each other in anticipation of a fall election fight with sharp debate on national issues.

Mr. Ehrlich, 38, who succeeded Helen Delich Bentley two years ago in the district covering Harford and portions of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, has minimal opposition from three lightly funded, little-known candidates.

Mrs. DeJuliis, runner-up to Gerry L. Brewster in the district's 1994 primary, faces her toughest competition in a field of six candidates from Harford's Joseph John Bish Jr., a Westinghouse computer analyst engaging in his third political campaign.

Mr. Bish, 38, who won the Harford vote in the last primary but finished a poor third to Mrs. DeJuliis in the districtwide balloting, sees the March 5 primary as his big chance.

This time, Mr. Bish has more money and is trying to expand his conservative, anti-abortion base to Dundalk, Essex and Middle River, where he has received endorsements from former County Councilman Donald C. Mason and former Dundalk Del. Daniel J. Minnick Jr.

But most of those who backed Mr. Brewster last time are helping Mrs. DeJuliis rather than Mr. Bish -- who bills himself "the only true conservative" in the race.

Thomas Baldwin, a leader of the large Battle Grove Democratic Club in North Point, says Mr. Bish's Dundalk support comes from "Republicrats" -- nominal Democrats who will favor Mr. Ehrlich in the general election and are backing Mr. Bish in the primary just to hurt Mrs. DeJuliis.

"I worked with her father at Sparrows Point. She's not a high-priced lawyer. She's one of us," Mr. Baldwin said of Mrs. DeJuliis, 49, who -- like the GOP's Mr. Ehrlich -- formerly represented Baltimore County in the House of Delegates.

He speculated that some who want to hurt Mrs. DeJuliis' general election chances are responsible for dirty campaign tactics that surfaced last week in Dundalk and Essex in the form of an unsigned sheet praising Mr. Bish and attacking Mrs. DeJuliis' character.

Mrs. DeJuliis has been concentrating on political club appearances and endorsements. She has won a slew of them from Eastside Democratic clubs, several educational groups and the AFL-CIO. Her husband, James R. "Ron" DeJuliis, is an officer for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 37.

The other Democrats in the race are Christopher C. Boardman, 49, a community activist and nursing student from Joppa; James A. Young, 52, a computer consultant from Severna Park; Kauko H. Kokkonen, 58, a men's rights advocate; and Gilbert Peter Muirhead, who moved from his Towson address and has no phone listed in his name.

Mr. Ehrlich's primary opponents are Josef Thurston, 26, a Towson State University senior and part-time security guard from Jarrettsville; retired state correctional officer Walter E. Boyd Jr., 70, of Lutherville; and Russell Mirabile, 47, a Dundalk businessman who ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 1994.

If Mr. Ehrlich and Mrs. DeJuliis win in the primary, the eight-month general election campaign may quickly become Maryland's version of the national presidential debate over the role of government.

"The issues should resonate naturally," says Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College who keeps a close eye on Maryland politics.

The election's toughest test may be whether negative campaigning obscures policy issues.

Last week, the DeJuliis and Ehrlich camps began trading charges when criticism of Republican policies in a DeJuliis fund-raising letter from Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening sparked, in turn, a denunciation of the governor and President Clinton from the congressman.

Although neither candidate has said much specifically about the other, their opposite perceptions of how voters in their mostly conservative district see the issues indicates a sharp debate.

"People want the government to work," says Mrs. DeJuliis, a Dundalk native who lives in Glen Arm. "Moms and dads are caught in the middle," she adds, repeating her theme that the breakdown of federal budget talks and furloughs of federal workers have caused unnecessary hardships that should have been avoided.

The people, she says, are telling her that things are a mess, that the budget should have been adopted by Sept. 30 when the federal fiscal year ended, and that they don't want deeper-than-needed budget cuts to finance "tax breaks for the wealthy."

Mr. Ehrlich says his constituents back him all the way, and favor the Republican stance as a struggle to force a recalcitrant Democratic president to balance the federal budget.

Mr. Ehrlich talks about a "new thought process" the Republicans have brought to the debate, and the "accomplishment" of getting President Clinton to say during his State of the Union address that "the era of big government is over."

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