Being Clinton's friend doesn't harm Hoyer As a campaign issue, sex scandal is a loser

October 20, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LAUREL -- Despite Republican efforts to target supporters of President Clinton, the fortunes of Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and other Democratic lawmakers depend much more on people like Lisa Turner than Monica Lewinsky.

Turner, 32, a Democrat and mother of three from Laurel who voted twice for Clinton, thinks he should resign because he lied to his wife and the country about his involvement with Lewinsky. But Turner has no problem voting for Hoyer, a loyal friend of Clinton, in the coming congressional elections.

"I wouldn't hold it against somebody if he was a supporter of the president," said Turner, as she attended her daughter's soccer tournament Saturday in Maryland City. "I wouldn't make it a major issue." She said she cares more about money for schools and a stable economy.

The apparent failure of the Lewinsky scandal to catch fire as a major campaign issue diminishes the chances that Republican challenger Robert B. Ostrom can unseat the nine-term incumbent, who is much better known and much better financed. Ostrom, who called for Clinton to resign shortly after the scandal broke last winter, has latched onto the issue as his best shot for defeating Hoyer.

But so far there appears to be little political fallout for congressional incumbents of either party from the salacious affair that has dominated the political landscape this year.

"Even after all the volatility we've seen in the last months, most of the incumbents are well positioned to win in November," said Amy Walter, a political analyst who tracks House races for the Washington-based Cook Report.

Hoyer and most other Democrats have condemned the president's sexual relationship with the former White House intern. But Hoyer is among those who dispute the contention of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that Clinton's misdeeds in the Lewinsky matter may amount to an impeachable offense.

"This is uniquely a personal issue to the president," said Hoyer, 59, who has served in Congress since 1981. "This is not [Democrats] or Republicans."

That view doesn't seem to be hurting Hoyer with voters.

No mileage in scandal

"The Republicans thought there was mileage in it, and they're dumbfounded that the Starr report and the dumping of all the documents haven't [damaged] anyone at all," said congressional scholar Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego.

Even so, Republicans appear likely to maintain control of Congress because they, too, are benefiting from the advantage of incumbency.

"It's not going to be anything like a referendum on the Lewinsky" scandal, Jacobson said. "I don't think there is a trend, other than a pro-incumbent one."

Hoyer's district looks like fertile ground for Republicans. Embracing a large swatch of Prince George's County, the southern end of Anne Arundel County, and all of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, the 5th District has a solid Democratic majority, but many of those Democrats have a conservative outlook.

For example, Ostrom might be able to appeal to voters such as James Groom of Solomons Island, a registered Democrat who said he is becoming increasingly sympathetic to Republican candidates. "What the president's done has upset me quite a bit," Groom said. "What upsets me more is that the Democrats -- and Steny Hoyer is fourth in the party hierarchy -- are just following the party line."

But Groom, a 57-year-old emergency road mechanic for the Washington Metro system, quickly recites military-related projects in the district that he credits to Hoyer, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "He's done great things for that area," Groom said.

While Groom might consider voting for a GOP challenger to Hoyer, he says he doesn't know much about Ostrom.

Little-known challenger

Many voters don't even recognize Ostrom's name.

"Ostrom? It sounds familiar," said Laurel resident Ali Abbasum, a project manager in the Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources who is sympathetic to Hoyer. "Tell me more about him."

Said Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the state Republican LTC Party: "The difference always comes down to money. I think it would take a good half-million dollars" to take on Hoyer.

Ostrom doesn't have that kind of money. According to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, Ostrom had about $23,000 on hand and debts of $43,500 after spending about $116,000. The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to spend another $30,000 on Ostrom's behalf, but Hoyer's campaign still had $607,000 in hand as of Sept. 30, after having spent more than $212,000.

Ostrom, 54, who was previously the chief lawyer for the Prince George's County government, is making his pitch based on bedrock conservative principles that he believes distinguish him from Hoyer. He's campaigning for lower taxes, smaller government and greater restrictions on abortion.

But Ostrom believes his most potent argument is that Hoyer has very visibly stood by Clinton, golfing with him at Camp David a few weeks after the Lewinsky scandal first exploded, and traveling with him to Russia and Ireland shortly after Clinton acknowledged misleading the country about his relationship with Lewinsky.

"Clearly, Steny has been one of the great defenders of Clinton's behavior," Ostrom said in a recent interview. "That's not the right position for Steny to take as a congressman."

Pub Date: 10/20/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.