Mikulski and Pierpont debate issues on MPT Candidates for Senate emphasize differences

October 13, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski sparred with Republican challenger Ross Z. Pierpont during a one-hour debate last night that yielded few insights but offered voters a distinct choice.

Mikulski, a generally liberal Democratic lawmaker who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, talked of her desire to work for safe streets and a bright economic future. She stressed many of her efforts on behalf of veterans and the elderly.

Pierpont, an 81-year-old retired surgeon with a strongly conservative bent, sparked one of the evening's more lively exchanges by repeatedly tying Mikulski to President Clinton, who faces impeachment hearings stemming from his relationship with a White House intern.

"Character matters. Trust matters. Democrats have lost the right to lead," Pierpont said in his opening statement. "I am a family man, an example of moral values we share. An unmarried person has a great deal of difficulty understanding or representing family values."

Mikulski, a 62-year-old former social worker who has never been married, clearly took exception at Pierpont's pointed remarks.

"I think every priest, and every nun, would really be offended by that statement," she said. "I don't think your marital status determines whether you understand what American families are going through."

After that, the debate panel, assembled by Maryland Public Television, turned to more policy-driven questions on Social Security, U.S. policy in the Balkans, public housing and the minimum wage.

Despite Pierpont's criticism of Clinton, Mikulski avoided commenting on the president's troubles.

Pierpont, a former chief of surgery at Maryland General Hospital who lives in Timonium, is a longtime critic of Mikulski and government waste.

He repeated his call for tax cuts and a new national health system that more closely resembles the socialized medical plans of many European industrial countries than the American model.

A perpetual Republican candidate, Pierpont has never held an elected post but has sought officemore than a dozen times, including races to become mayor of Baltimore, U.S. representative and governor. On Sept. 15, he won a crowded GOP Senate primary against a group of political novices with 16 percent of the vote.

Pierpont, who lent $51,000 to his campaign effort, has not placed ads on major television stations that serve Marylanders, and has instead spent money on less expensive radio advertisements.

Mikulski initially cut against the grain of Baltimore's political establishment to win seats on the Baltimore City Council, in the House of Representatives and twice in the U.S. Senate. Considered the top vote-getter in Maryland history, Mikulski is heavily favored to win her third six-year term Nov. 3.

She has worked to ensure that outcome, raising more than $3.2 million for her campaign -- relying heavily on special-interest money -- despite having no major opposition, and pushing pork barrel projects for the state from her seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Last night's debate was sponsored by Maryland Public Television and the League of Women Voters of Maryland, and it was moderated by Jeff Salkin of MPT. The other questioners included Sue Kopen of WBAL Radio; John Aubuchon of MPT; Joan Paik, president of the League of Women Voters of Maryland; and April Ryan, of American Urban Radio Network.

The format of the hour-long debate allowed each candidate to make a 90-second opening statement, and each questioner in turn posed a question to each candidate. Candidates had two minutes to respond, and were also given a minute apiece to rebut their opponent's response.

The two camps were given veto power over the format and the questioners in the debate; the campaigns agreed not to allow any newspaper columnists to be questioners, organizers said.

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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