Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley will formally announce her candidacy for Congress by the end of the month, her exploratory committee chairman said yesterday.
The details of the announcement are still being worked out, but Bentley, 78, has made the decision to run, said Michael S. Kosmas, the committee chairman.
Bentley, a Republican, joins the campaign to replace Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in Maryland's 2nd District, which is expected to be one of a handful of races nationwide that will determine which party controls the House of Representatives.
"We are delighted to have her," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, a Virginian who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, which helps coordinate congressional campaigns nationwide.
Although the 2nd is her old seat, the shape of the district has changed significantly since Bentley's eight years in Congress.
In the once-a-decade redistricting process, Gov. Parris N. Glendening redrew the district to make it more favorable for a Democrat, specifically outgoing Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who announced his candidacy April 29.
The district is now more heavily Democratic, but Bentley is well known in it, and the Republican leadership gave her a significant campaign advantage when it promised her the old seat she had on the House Appropriations Committee, with her seniority intact, if she wins.
Ruppersberger has based much of his campaign so far on the premise that as a county executive, he is in tune with the community's needs and would bring home money to pay for them. But a seat on the Appropriations Committee could give Bentley an edge in securing federal money.
"This run became irresistible when [House Speaker Dennis Hastert] offered Appropriations with seniority," Kosmas said.
Bentley could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Davis said the party is thrilled to have someone of Bentley's caliber running in the 2nd District. The party has run polls in the district, and Bentley and Ehrlich are "the only ones who win this seat against the county executive," he said.
"She's got a strong record over there of standing up for working families. She would bring her seniority and her Appropriations seat with her, which is something Maryland needs in the House," Davis said. "Ruppersberger comes, and he'll be sitting on nothing committees for a couple of years."
Ruppersberger, a former county councilman, said yesterday that he was aware of Bentley's decision. He said his experience in securing money for the county in Annapolis would help him do the same thing in Congress.
"I've been doing this for 17 years, and I plan to vigorously do what I have to do to bring money back to the communities I represent," he said. His campaign, he said, will focus on "the basics" - improving schools, decreasing crime and revitalizing older neighborhoods.
The district extends from Randallstown through Timonium to the east side of the county and also incorporates parts of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
Kosmas said Bentley's campaign will focus on national and economic security, and particularly how the maritime industry contributes to both.
One other candidate is in the race: Oz Bengur, an investment banker and political newcomer. Bengur, a Democrat, is relatively unknown compared to Bentley and Ruppersberger, and he has begun television advertising.
Another Republican, Dundalk real estate agent Patrick T. Welsh, is considering the race. He said yesterday that Bentley's impending announcement doesn't change his plans.