Delegate hopefuls come knocking Republicans say tide turning their way in District 13A

Campaign 1998

October 22, 1998|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

In the House of Delegates door-knocking war of District 13A, Frank S. Turner must have the most calloused knuckles of any candidate.

The first-term Democratic incumbent in the southern Howard County district says he has spent every day since May -- save four -- knocking on doors and talking up voters. Which, by his count, means he's rapped on more than 12,000 to date.

"He's Iron Man," boasted his Democratic running mate, former County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass.

Sometimes, though, the number of doors upon which a candidate knocks is directly proportional to the strength of the political opposition. And, in fact, the two Republicans running for the district's pair of General Assembly seats -- one of whom came within 700 votes of defeating Turner four years ago, and one of whom is a successful fund-raiser -- are waging aggressive campaigns in a county that Republicans say is increasingly turning their way.

Thanks to his near-miss in 1994, Republican Michael Grasso is better known than his ticket mate, Hans K. Meeder; he placed first in last month's GOP primary. But Meeder has far outpaced Grasso -- and remained competitive with the two incumbents -- in the race for cash. At the start of September, Meeder had brought in nearly $44,000, compared with Grasso's $12,000.

Pendergrass had raised $49,000; Turner about $1,000 less.

Grasso, who owns a biomedical computing company and teaches part time at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said two issues that distinguish him and Meeder from the Democratic incumbents are development and education.

Grasso says he wants to curb "out-of-control" growth and opposes "mixed-use" zoning, something Pendergrass supported while she was on the County Council. He also opposes taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, which Turner voted for during the 1995 legislative session. Echoing a campaign theme that is popular this year among GOP hopefuls, including gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey, Grasso said public dollars should be used instead to build "much-needed" schools.

Meeder, a former Capitol Hill aide, is running on similar issues. One of his television commercials also stresses his commitment to grade school reading and promises a tax cut for senior citizens.

Pendergrass and Turner have based their campaigns mainly on the millions of dollars in state funds they have secured for constructing new schools, preserving the Smith farm and building more roads.

If the last election is any indication, Turner will face a tougher challenge Nov. 3 than Pendergrass -- who, despite the success of Republican candidates in surrounding districts, won comfortably in 1994. That year, Martin G. Madden wrested southeast Howard's state Senate seat from a three-term Democratic incumbent. Dennis R. Schrader took over the Democratic County Council seat left open by Pendergrass, and John S. Morgan won re-election to a second term in neighboring District 13B.

Even so, Turner insists his narrow victory four years ago has nothing to do with how he will fare this year.

"That was then. I'm much better known now," he said.

Turner has criticized Meeder for raising a substantial part of his money from people who don't live in the state. About $12,600, or nearly 30 percent, of Meeder's contributions have come from outside Maryland -- some from as far away as Florida, Wyoming and Oregon.

"I think it's definitely people outside of Maryland trying to influence the race in Maryland," said Turner. "I haven't brought nobody in from out of state."

Back in the door-knocking war, Turner continues rapping. And, in between his roadside sign-waving, so does Meeder. Compared with the incumbent's 12,000 doors, Meeder's 3,300-plus doesn't seem like much. But for Grasso and him, at least there's this: Calloused knuckles alone don't win elections.

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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