DeJuliis no novice in facing long odds 2nd District candidate emphasizes obstacles of her early adult life

Campaign 1996

September 29, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

As she stumps for the 2nd District congressional seat, Democrat Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis often talks about how far she's come since her days as a high school dropout with three young children and a bad marriage.

After turning her life around, she served on Baltimore County's Community College Board of Trustees and represented Dundalk for four years in the House of Delegates. Now, she's living in Glen Arm and campaigning to oust Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

DeJuliis, 50, has come a long way as a candidate, too.

A nervous and often tongue-tied public speaker during a losing primary effort two years ago, she has emerged as a confident, informed candidate able to hold her own in debate with Ehrlich, an Ivy League-educated lawyer and former county legislator.

"It's like night and day," her 1994 primary rival, former Towson Del. Gerry L. Brewster, said after watching the candidates' first debate this month. "She's certainly far improved."

For her part, DeJuliis said, "If I seem more comfortable and more ready, maybe it's a deeper conviction about how very important this [election] is. People in this district are really struggling."

DeJuliis uses her experiences to appeal to the working-class voters so vital to her campaign, and to explain her positions on issues.

She speaks of her struggle as a young, single mother to get an education. Of raising children while working the midnight shift at Western Electric. And of getting her high school diploma and going on to the University of Baltimore (though she doesn't mention that she did not receive a degree).

In the Sept. 16 debate, DeJuliis kept pushing her message -- that she favors expanding opportunities to create a broader middle class while Ehrlich has voted to cut the growth of Medicare spending, increase the cost of student loans and block an increase in the minimum wage.

"Bob, you really don't understand," she said repeatedly, portraying Ehrlich as marching in lock step with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and embracing a "slash and burn" GOP mentality.

Questions of independence

She also uses the tales of hard knocks to tout her independence -- already a campaign issue.

For even as she criticizes the Ehrlich-Gingrich connection, she must fend off similar parries. Ehrlich has charged that her campaign is the creation of Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening, or the tool of organized labor, as personified by her husband, James R. "Ron" DeJuliis, business manager of Local 37 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

DeJuliis counters that her husband has sometimes publicly opposed her causes, and that she will control her own vote.

She has voted against gun control, she said, but opposes Republican efforts to repeal the ban on semiautomatic assault weapons. She's for welfare reform, but doesn't want to hurt children and leave people untrained to work. And she criticizes "corporate welfare" -- especially government aid to industries such as tobacco, which have contributed to Ehrlich's campaign.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the national AFL-CIO say Ehrlich may be one of the vulnerable freshman Republicans.

Both have helped the DeJuliis campaign, although the AFL-CIO's contribution was less than what it gave 35 other candidates nationally, a spokesman said.

But Western Maryland College political analyst Herbert C. Smith said, "Ehrlich doesn't fit the profile for an upset."

The 38-year-old Republican is young, seemingly in sync with his constituents' thinking and scandal-free, Smith said. He also noted that because Maryland is seen as a lock for Clinton, his campaign won't spend a lot of time or money here to increase voter turnout by Democrats.

GOP stronghold

And, says Essex state Sen. Michael J. Collins, a Democrat, the district "is very, very Republican in voting behavior."

The 2nd District was crafted after the 1990 census to fit the needs of then-incumbent Helen Delich Bentley, a moderate Republican. It covers Harford County, eastern and northern Baltimore County and a small part of northern Anne Arundel County.

In 1992, the district voted 44 percent for George Bush, 36 percent for Clinton and 19 percent for Ross Perot. Ehrlich drew 63 percent of the vote in the congressional race.

DeJuliis' strategy calls for cutting into Ehrlich's strength in Harford County, while bringing eastern Baltimore County's "Reagan Democrats" back into the party fold.

Both are daunting tasks.

At a recent breakfast meeting of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce in Aberdeen, DeJuliis admitted knowing little about running a small business and said she'd set up an advisory committee, once elected.

Asked about a 1988 Supreme Court decision regulating the use of union dues in campaigns, she carefully explained the system of union contributions -- and tacked on a thought of her own.

Union members, she said, contribute voluntarily to political action funds under federal law. "Not one union member is forced to support a political candidate against their will," she said.

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