Activist seeks 8th District seat in Congress Newly registered Democrat in bid to oust Morella

Campaign 1998

November 18, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CABIN JOHN -- Ralph G. Neas, a longtime civil rights activist, announced yesterday that he would seek to represent Montgomery County in Congress, acknowledging that it would be difficult to wrest the district from the popular Rep. Constance A. Morella in the 1998 election.

Speaking before about 150 supporters, Neas, a newly registered Democrat, delivered a well-crafted speech in which he made his case for voters in the heavily Democratic district to oust a liberal Republican whom they have re-elected to Congress five times ** by significant margins.

In the wake of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, Neas argued, Morella has been dragged rightward by her party, forsaking her more moderate convictions and those of the people she represents. While he gave no concrete examples, Neas said her identity as a Republican has helped put conservatives in charge of committees that shape policy.

"In sorrow, and not in anger, I have come to the conclusion that, while Connie Morella has earned our admiration and appreciation, she is no longer the best person to represent this county in Congress," Neas, 51, said to applause. "It is not good enough to sign the Republican 'Contract with America,' and then call yourself an Independent.

"It is not enough to stand in honorable isolation," said Neas, who stood in front of a blue banner bearing his first name -- "Ralph!"

Neas promised to stress constituent service in the 8th District and a solution to regional problems such as traffic congestion, but said he also would push nationally for the rights of immigrants, gays, women and the disabled -- stances opposed by many senior Republicans.

In an interview, Bill Miller, Morella's chief of staff, was dismissive of Neas' announcement.

"Connie is not going to begin a campaign a year out," Miller said yesterday. "It's vastly premature to start talking about campaigns."

A Capitol Hill staffer who worked for two moderate Republican senators in the 1970s -- Edward Brooke of Massachusetts and David Durenberger of Minnesota -- Neas acknowledged that he had voted for Morella several times and that he first registered as a Democratic last year because he was dismayed at the direction his party had taken.

"The era of the moderate Republican is over," Neas said.

Morella, one of the more liberal Republicans in the House, has rejected her party's stances on some issues but has voted along party lines on budget matters.

It is unclear whether Neas' bid for the Democratic nomination will contested. Donald L. Mooers Jr., who received about 39 percent of the vote when he ran against Morella in 1996, has said he will not run next year. Neas predicted he would raise and spend about $1 million on his bid, far more than Mooers did.

In 1979, while working for Durenberger, Neas was paralyzed for months with Guillain-Barre syndrome. After recovering, he left the Hill to head the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, where he became a champion of rights for the disabled, blacks, women and other minority groups.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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