5th District race is marked by contrasts Challenger Morgan, veteran Hoyer differ in image, on issues

June 11, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- If Steny H. Hoyer weren't a congressman, he could play one on television.

Impeccably dressed, with a head of carefully coifed silver hair, he exudes confidence as he glides through the halls of the Capitol, greeting people with an easy smile and a firm clasp of the shoulder.

Back in Maryland's 5th District, Hoyer's Republican challenger, John Morgan, cuts a distinctly different figure.

A bespectacled Ph.D., he speaks passionately about his political beliefs. Earnest and intellectual, he labors on the street corners of Prince George's County and Southern Maryland, waving to passing cars until his elbows ache.

These are the contrasting images in the congressional race: Experience vs. Youth. Insider vs. Outsider. Hoyer, a self-described "John Kennedy Democrat," is a polished pol with a reputation for getting things done in Washington -- a man who says he sees government as a positive force for change in the country.

Morgan is an ideological conservative who has fought to reduce the influence of special interest money in campaigns and the size and scope of government during his 5 1/2 years as a state delegate in Annapolis.

They are vying to represent the 5th, a politically diverse district that stretches from College Park in Prince George's County to Crofton in Anne Arundel County and ends where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake at Point Lookout in Southern Maryland.

Disagreement on issues

Pick an issue and the two candidates are likely to disagree.

Hoyer has supported an assault weapons ban; Morgan fought a similar bill in the State House.

Morgan preaches term limits; Hoyer, running for his ninth term, has voted against them.

"He's a slick, liberal lawyer," says the 32-year-old Morgan. "I'm a young, conservative engineer."

Hoyer, who turns 57 this week, says if Morgan were elected, he would vote lock step with House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I think there's a very substantial difference between Mr. Morgan and myself," says Hoyer. "Not only on issues, but on [our] basic approach to what government can and should do."

In the end, the race is less likely to come down to a single issue than to one central question: Are the people of the 5th District willing to trade Hoyer's 16 years of experience and influence for Morgan's conservative philosophy and his promise to change the way Washington works?

His name is Morgan

To win, Morgan must get voters to remember his name.

The challenger begins his days about 6: 30 a.m. at crowded intersections, trying to build name recognition one car at a time. With a handful of volunteers holding homemade signs bearing messages such as "Honk For Term Limits," he spends two hours most mornings smiling, waving and leaning into car windows to greet potential voters.

It is as much a matter of personal style as necessity.

Midway through his second term as a state delegate, Morgan is not well known in the 5th. Nor can he afford the expensive television advertisements that provide an instant introduction.

In the critical fund-raising derby, Hoyer has brought in $11 for every $1 of Morgan's. As of April, Morgan had raised just $49,067 to Hoyer's $569,749 -- more than any other Maryland congressional candidate.

For Hoyer, the advantage of incumbency is hard to overstate. Most of his money comes from political action committees that have a stake in the matters he handles on Capitol Hill.

For instance, Hoyer sits on a subcommittee that oversees labor and health issues. Not surprisingly, his contributors include groups such as the American Federation of Government Employees ($3,500) and Manor Healthcare ($2,000), a subsidiary Manor Care, the Maryland nursing home company.

So far, Morgan has had to rely on like-minded politicians, friends and family, including his brother Jeff ($900) and his mother, Louise ($600).

His one sizable PAC contribution: $2,500 from the National Rifle Association.

"It's frustrating at times," he says, standing amid the honking cars and exhaust fumes at a busy intersection along Route 1 in Hyattsville. "We have to convince people we can win and that their money is well spent."

Hoyer too liberal?

Politically, the challenger -- like others before him -- is banking on the notion that Hoyer is too liberal for his district.

For years, Hoyer represented most of Prince George's, a generally liberal, heavily Democratic county where he won re-election by overwhelming margins. In the early 1990s, though, he lost part of the county to redistricting and inherited the more conservative Southern Maryland.

In the 1992 race, he lost everywhere outside Prince George's but pulled in enough votes at home to win. Since then, he has won over many of his new constituents by voting a more conservative line.

Equally important, he's managed to bring new jobs to his district. While the federal government was deciding to close military bases in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, Hoyer helped win 5,000 jobs for Patuxent River Naval Air Station in St. Mary's County.

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