Congressional incumbents sail toward victory Mikulski cruises

6 of 8 are expected to return easily to House

Maryland delegation

Primary 1998

September 16, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Barbara A. Mikulski quickly cruised to nomination last night for a third six-year term in the Senate, headlining a successful primary evening for all of Maryland's congressional incumbents in both parties.

Mikulski, a 62-year-old Democrat, brushed aside two minor candidates -- one of them a Finnish-born men's rights activist.

"It's a very good night for me," Mikulski said, but she acknowledged that she was disturbed by the low voter turnout. "I think voters have been on the decline for several years. We really must focus on a very modern get-out-the-vote effort."

Mikulski claimed her primary victory long before it was clear who among a crowded field of Republican novices would win the right to face her in November. Shortly after midnight, the winner in that contest was declared to be Ross Z. Pierpont, 81, a retired physician who has made more than a dozen unsuccessful tries for public office. He did not campaign actively in this race but his name was familiar enough to Maryland Republicans for him to claim a plurality of about one-fifth of the votes cast.

Of Maryland's eight representatives, split equally between Republicans and Democrats, six are likely to coast to another two-year term in November's general election.

"A campaign is predictable, mild heartburn, that's all," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, an Eastern Shore Republican who was unopposed in seeking nomination for a fifth term in the House.

Party officials and political observers say only two House races -- one in the Washington suburbs and one in Southern Maryland -- provide prospects for a contest.

Civil rights activist Ralph G. Neas, a well-funded Democrat, won the right last night to face off against six-term Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican from Montgomery County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a ratio of 2-to-1. Morella handily defeated anti-abortion activist Luis F. Columba for the GOP nomination.

GOP candidate Robert Ostrom, a former Prince George's county attorney, ran unopposed in his bid to face Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who has served in Congress since 1981.

In the 1st District contest to face Gilchrest, Democrat Irving Pinder, a natural resources official on leave, ran a strong race to beat three competitors.

"In Maryland, most of the House incumbents are pretty safe," said James P. Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who studies state politics. "We could see some competition in the Hoyer race and in the Morella race, but I don't see any of the others in any real danger."

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a second-term Republican from Baltimore County, was unopposed in the primary and will square off in November against Kenneth Bosley, a 68-year-old former Air Force official.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a veteran Baltimore-area Democrat, easily deflected the perennial candidacy of Democrat Dan Hiegel, and will face GOP challenger Colin Felix Harby, a design engineer, to represent the firmly Democratic district.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, solidified his hold on the majority-black, largely urban district, beating Joseph Ward for renomination in a district where winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to victory. He will face Republican Kenneth Kondner in November in a rematch of their 1996 contest.

Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat from Prince George's County who sailed to victory with more than 80 percent of the vote in 1996, headed to a strong win over two primary challengers to face the winner of a tight GOP race.

In Western Maryland, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican from Frederick, and Democrat Timothy G. McCown, a substance abuse counselor from Frederick, ran unopposed in primaries for the 6th Congressional District.

Even in the two races where incumbents face well-financed contenders, neither is considered in great danger.

As a senior Democratic lawmaker who prizes party loyalty, Hoyer has long been an irritant to state Republicans. They say he poorly reflects his district, which was redrawn in 1992 away from his power bases in Prince George's to include the more conservative Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. But Hoyer has courted voters with constituent service, and Republicans in Washington who make choices about where to send money appear to have backed off early visions of victory for Ostrom.

In Montgomery County, Neas said Morella had been forced to become too conservative after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995. "When Representative Morella signed the 'Contract with America,' it was the congressional equivalent of crossing the Rubicon," Neas said. "I am confident we can replace Congresswoman Morella in Congress."

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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