Shriver, Van Hollen down to wire in 8th

Democratic primary will decide who will face Morella in November

September 07, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- The 8th Congressional District primary is becoming more openly confrontational, as Mark K. Shriver prepares a new television ad accusing Christopher Van Hollen Jr. of distorting his legislative record.

Both sides acknowledge that Tuesday's Democratic election is close enough to be decided by turnout and still-undecided voters.

Shriver, the front-runner in most polls, had not mentioned his opponents in his TV spots, which focused mostly on his background and positions. But yesterday, Shriver planned a new spot for the weekend criticizing Van Hollen's campaign tactics, particularly two mailings that Shriver believes misrepresent his House of Delegates record. "We have every right to defend ourselves and tell people what the facts are," said Shriver spokesman Jay Strell.

Van Hollen's campaign attributed the new ad to the closeness of the race.

"This wasn't in his game plan -- to be here in a dead-heat election," said Steve Jost, campaign manager for Van Hollen, a two-term state senator.

Shriver's campaign, too, said the contest, one of the nation's most expensive, is close. "It's going to come down to turnout," Strell said.

Turnout is expected to be from 35 percent to 50 percent. The winner faces the incumbent, Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella in the general election.

Jost claims Van Hollen has seized momentum, based partly on the endorsements Thursday of the Washington Post and The Sun. Van Hollen's campaign immediately ballyhooed the endorsements, handing out thousands of copies at Metro stops and recording telephone messages about them to send to 45,000 likely Democratic voters in the Montgomery and Prince George's County district.

Shriver's campaign said it was holding its ground, and that its new ad was merely intended to flag Van Hollen for "negative campaigning."

One Van Hollen mailing says Shriver "has not been the lead sponsor of a single piece of health care legislation" that became law during his eight years in Annapolis. Another says Shriver "flip-flopped" on legislation earlier this year to change an education formula and send additional funding to local schools.

But Shriver's campaign says all of Montgomery County's House delegation initially had reservations about the school funding measure, but that he helped champion the measure in the House.

On health care, Shriver sponsored a measure in this year's legislative session adding a provision to a patient bill of rights that requires an assessment of patients' pain management.

But Jost said Shriver was not the bill's lead sponsor.

A Maryland poll of likely voters found that Shriver led Van Hollen on Aug. 22-23 by 11 percentage points, 41 to 30. Former Clinton administration trade negotiator Ira Shapiro had 9 percent and attorney Deborah Vollmer had 1 percent.

In the campaign's final days, Van Hollen is making appearances in Prince George's County, a portion of which was added to the 8th District when the boundaries were changed in this year's congressional redistricting. He considers that region -- along with portions of north Rockville, Gaithersburg and Germantown -- a key battleground because neither candidate represents those areas in Annapolis.

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