The eight-month campaign in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District could strain political relationships in Baltimore County, where many Democrats have backed Republicans for elective office in recent years.
With the Republican incumbent running against a former Dundalk legislator, the situation could get touchy by November.
Competition for conservative Democratic votes in the eastern part of the county -- the political heart of the district -- should be fierce. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he is wooing those votes and expects to win them, as he did in 1994.
"I was elected to Congress to fight for smaller government, lower taxes and an end to over-regulation. The Republicans and conservative Democrats of my district continue to support this . . . agenda," he said.
"We feel very strong about support on the east side. We focused attention there from day one."
One of his first moves after he was elected in 1994 was to hire Robert Infussi Sr., a veteran Essex Democratic political operative, for his district office.
Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis, a former delegate from Dundalk, also wants those votes -- and needs them to win.
She said people are upset about the disruption of government services and the federal budget stalemate. "People want a government that works," she said.
Louis L. DePazzo, a Democratic County Council member from Dundalk, already feels he is in the hot seat. An Ehrlich supporter in 1994, he is torn between his friendship with Mr. Ehrlich, a former General Assembly colleague, and his allegiance to his own party.
His 1994 support of Republicans led to his expulsion from one Dundalk Democratic club last year and a two-year suspension from another.
The only thing he's sure of, Mr. DePazzo said, is that "there's no way I'm going to hurt Bob Ehrlich. He's never lied to me."
Voters don't care much about party labels, Mr. Ehrlich said. "People are fiercely independent these days," he said.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a Democrat who represented the heavily Republican northern section of the county for nine years on the council, is a good example.
He has worked closely with Mr. Ehrlich on several issues, such as blocking a proposed legal settlement that would have shifted public housing residents from Baltimore to the suburbs. He can't afford friction with the only county member of the majority party in 'Congress.
Yet, he plans to endorse Ms. DeJuliis for Mr. Ehrlich's seat. As a Democrat, he also will back President Clinton. He doesn't expect either to affect his relationship with the congressman. "I've never backed Republicans," he said.
"I've got the best of both worlds," Mr. Ruppersberger added, noting that Mr. Ehrlich carries the county's flag among Republicans, while 3rd District Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who represents Pikesville, Owings Mills, Hillendale and Parkville, is influential among Democrats.
Mr. Ehrlich said he that understands the county executive's position and that he feels the same way about their working relationship. Campaign pressures, he said, "won't affect anything."
The 2nd District covers Harford County, eastern and northern Baltimore County, and a small portion of northern Anne Arundel County.
Pub Date: 3/07/96