Rappaport wins race for GOP challenge to Sarbanes in Senate

All 8 House incumbents easily win renomination for another 2-year term

Congressional races

March 08, 2000|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

In a close race, Paul H. Rappaport, a familiar candidate and former law enforcement officer, took the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in November.

Sarbanes, 67, easily defeated token opposition to run in the general election for a fifth six-year term, which would be a state record.

All eight House members -- four Democrats, four Republicans -- are up for re-election and were easily renominated. Five faced no primary opposition.

"It's a pro-incumbent economy," said 2nd District Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. "To my mind, that is the dominant factor. When you've got a good economy, name recognition, money in the bank, and you're generally in agreement within your district -- it's tough to beat an incumbent."

With 81 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Rappaport, who has twice run unsuccessfully for statewide office, had attracted 23 percent of the turnout -- 58,876 votes -- in the Republican primary.

Rappaport, 65, is a lawyer and former Howard County chief of police who lost races as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1994 and for attorney general in 1998. Last night, his name recognition and support from many prominent Republicans appeared to have helped him best a field of eight candidates.

"It's certainly looking good, but I'm not going to make any predictions until all the votes are in," Rappaport said about 10 p.m. "If I am successful, then the real fight begins, and hopefully we'll have a two-party system in Maryland after all."

Chief among his rivals were Ross Z. Pierpont, 82, of Baltimore County, a retired surgeon and a perennial GOP candidate; and Rob Sobhani, 40, a Montgomery County consultant who helps U.S. firms win contracts in former Soviet republics. With 81 percent of precincts reporting, Pierpont had 18 percent of the vote and Sobhani took 16 percent. Former state Del. Robin Ficker of Montgomery County, noted for his courtside heckling at old Washington Bullets games, took 15 percent.

Sarbanes, who defeated two Montgomery County retirees in the Democratic primary, reveled at an Inner Harbor victory party with Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County.

"I am very appreciative of this strong vote of confidence which Maryland Democrats have given me in choosing me to be in the U.S. Senate again," Sarbanes said last night. "I look forward to the fall."

Rappaport will be unlikely to match Sarbanes' deep pockets: The senator, the senior Democrat on the Banking Committee, has reported raising more than $1 million and is likely to raise another $2 million.

The absence of more-prominent GOP figures, such as Ehrlich, from the Senate race demonstrates Sarbanes' perceived strength, despite persistent carping by Republicans that he has become lethargic in office.

The lack of stature of the Republican challengers is also telling. As the GOP nominee two years ago, Pierpont called for a Swedish-style socialized health care system and was drubbed by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.

Despite some inroads in voter registration by Republicans, Maryland remains one of the country's most reliably Democratic states. "I know Sarbanes and all the other Democrats pretty much have it locked up in Maryland," said Joe Craig, a despondent Republican interviewed after voting last night in Federal Hill. "People just seem to go down the line and vote for the Democrats."

The apparent predictability of this year's races is likely to be reversed in two years, after the state's congressional districts are redrawn. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other Democratic leaders have privately talked of altering the districts to favor Democrats, as they contend the state's four-four split in the House does not fairly represent the state's liberal partisan tilt toward Democrats.

That dynamic might stir current lawmakers to leave their posts. Ehrlich is gearing up for a possible gubernatorial run in 2002, and some are speculating in Montgomery County political circles that this race may prove to be the valedictory effort of 8th District Rep. Constance A. Morella, 69.

In the conservative 6th District, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland easily turned back the candidacy of Timothy R. Mayberry, the state GOP's former treasurer, who surprised his party with a primary race against an incumbent.

In the 2nd District, retired Air Force officer Kenneth T. Bosley defeated Del. Jacob J. Mohorovic Jr. for the Democratic nomination to challenge Ehrlich.

Republican voters gave state Del. Thomas E. Hutchins of La Plata the nod to run against Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, who has served in Congress since 1981.

The best financed challenger is likely to be Capitol Hill lobbyist Terry Lierman, the owner of an on-line pharmacy based in Montgomery County who handily won the Democratic nomination for the seat held by Morella since 1987.

In unusual public endorsements before the primary, the state's major Democratic elected officials lined up to support Lierman in an intense effort to win Morella's district, which leans heavily Democratic. But Morella remains very popular in the district and has compiled the most liberal voting record of any House Republican.

"It's not about Connie," Lierman said last night as returns rolled in. "It's about the Republican Congress. In order to get a Democratic Congress, we've got to make some changes."

Nationally, Democrats would have to gain six more seats to take control of the House.

Sun staff writer Kurt Streeter contributed to this article.

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