Activist raises $239,000 in bid to unseat Morella Democrat challenges six-term incumbent in Montgomery County

January 31, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Civil rights activist Ralph Neas has raised nearly a quarter-million dollars in his bid to unseat Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, according to records prepared by the Democratic challenger for the Federal Elections Commission.

"That's a lot of money," said University of Maryland political scientist Paul S. Herrnson.

For years, Democrats have fielded candidates with little visibility who wage campaigns with considerably less money than Morella, a popular moderate-to-liberal Republican first elected to Congress in 1986.

Neas, former executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, promises to change that by raising enough money to mount a credible challenge to the six-term incumbent.

In preparing for the September primary and the November general election, Neas has canvassed hundreds of Montgomery County Democrats for their support. He also held a high-profile fund-raiser in December headlined by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Records released yesterday by Neas' campaign chairman, Philip Evans, state that Neas raised more than $239,000 last year. He spent more than $67,000 during that time.

By contrast, Democrat Donald Mooers spent $196,000 during his 1996 campaign against Morella, who spent $559,000 and won handily, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Morella's chief of staff, Bill Miller, said her constituents maintain a high regard for the congresswoman and her record, which includes close attention to issues affecting federal employees. Many federal employees live in her district.

"Money's not going to be the determining issue for this campaign," Miller said. "Ralph Neas has been working on fund-raising full time since he first discussed the possibility of running for Congress in August. Connie's busy doing the work she was elected to do and has spent very little time on fund raising."

Morella's campaign had nearly $225,600 left over from 1996, and she raised $154,000 last year, for a total of $380,000 at the end of 1997, Miller said.

Herrnson, whose recent book "Congressional Elections: Campaigning at Home and in Washington" analyzed the 1996 contest between Morella and Mooers, said Neas is a credible challenger.

"Here's a strong candidate who's got national visibility, political experience, and who's not shy about asking people for money," Herrnson said. "If you were to look at fund raising only, you could say she may face her first formidable challenger in a long time."

Pub Date: 1/31/98

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