Few changes expected in election

Maryland delegation in Congress is solid

January 10, 2000|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Not a single Marylander in Congress appears in danger of being dislodged in this year's elections, observers and participants say, despite the presence of a few state lawmakers on the ballot.

"We take no vote for granted. But are we worried that the congressman is going to lose? Not for a moment," said Paul E. Schurick, campaign manager for Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. "You've got nine nonraces."

Dec. 27 marked the filing deadline for Maryland candidates to register for this year's congressional races. All eight incumbent House members are seeking additional two-year terms in office, while Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes appears to have scared off his most prominent challengers as he pursues a fifth six-year term in the Senate, which would be a record for the state.

"Doesn't look like a lot of changes are in store, does it?" said GOP Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County. Like Ehrlich, she decided to forgo running against Sarbanes for the Senate, concluding it would be too difficult to defeat him.

The state's primary -- which includes presidential candidates -- will be held March 7. Election Day is Nov. 7.

Emboldened by holding safe legislative seats that they will not have to defend until 2002, several state lawmakers have decided to challenge established federal lawmakers, according to the state board of election.

In the 1st District, Del. Bennett Bozman, a conservative Democrat from the Eastern

Shore, has filed to take on Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, the maverick Republican known for his advocacy on environmental issues. In the 2nd District, Dundalk Del. Jacob J. Mohorovic Jr., a Democrat, hopes to win his party's nomination to tackle Ehrlich in the fall. In the 5th District, Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is being challenged by GOP Del. Thomas E. Hutchins of Charles County, among others.

But it is more instructive, several political figures said, to look at who chose not to run.

In Montgomery County, where voters are heavily Democratic, a number of credible challengers to Morella shied away. State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. and state Dels. Mark K. Shriver and Kumar P. Barve declined to run against Morella, a proven vote-getter who is among the most liberal Republicans in Congress. Her most prominent opponent may be Terry Lierman, a lobbyist and former congressional aide better known in Capitol Hill circles than in Maryland.

"Why is Mark Shriver not running?" asked Democratic Del. Leon G. Billings, a former congressional aide. "Why is Chris Van Hollen not running? The answer to that is they don't believe the general election is viable."

Maryland's roster of challengers includes repeatedly unsuccessful candidates, such as GOP Senate hopefuls Ross Z. Pierpont and Paul H. Rappaport, as well as those who are untested in electoral politics, like John Ewald, a Frederick schoolteacher who hopes to defeat 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican. Bartlett is also being challenged in the primary by state GOP treasurer Timothy R. Mayberry, a move that has upset some of the Republican party faithful.

One of Morella's Democratic challengers lists a home address that appears to be in the neighboring congressional district of Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County.

One-time Washington Bullets taunter and former state Del. Robin Ficker, an activist on tax measures, is also seeking to run for Senate against Sarbanes on the Republican ticket.

Sarbanes is expected to raise between $2 million and $3 million for this year's Senate race, while House incumbents typically raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Long called vulnerable by his GOP critics, Hoyer of Southern Maryland raised more than $1 million in 1998 and defeated his opponent, Republican Robert Ostrom, by more than 30 points.

One has to go back to 1992, just after districts were redrawn as a result of the 1990 census, to find a sitting Maryland member of Congress who was defeated. Beverly B. Byron, a conservative Democrat from Western Maryland, was ambushed in the primary by a more liberal state lawmaker, who then lost to Bartlett. Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen of Crofton lost to Gilchrest when the two colleagues were thrown into the same district.

The result was a House delegation split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, despite a strong Democratic edge in voter registration in the state.

That could change in 2002 after a new round of redistricting. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has made little secret of his desire to make Ehrlich's district less hospitable to Republicans. Morella's Montgomery County seat, one held by dint of personal appeal, could be given precincts from the eastern portion of the county, which includes many more party-line Democratic voters.

Until then, incumbents can probably rest easy. "By and large, Maryland's elected officials pretty closely reflect their constituencies," Billings said.


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