For Shriver, Kennedy ties not enough in 8th District

Voters saw Van Hollen as stronger vs. Morella

September 12, 2002|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Mark K. Shriver often said that Maryland voters need more from a candidate than being a Kennedy.

In the end, he was proved right.

Shriver's narrow loss Tuesday to Christopher Van Hollen Jr. in the 8th District congressional primary is further evidence that the family's mystique is receding from voters' consciousness.

In Van Hollen, Shriver encountered a veteran state lawmaker with a longer resume and a committed network of supporters - particularly environmentalists - who knocked on thousands of doors and helped him bridge the celebrity gap with Shriver.

Shriver, nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, made a point of establishing his own identity by not using his middle name of Kennedy. But his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, campaigned for him, cousin Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg recorded a telephone message on his behalf, and his long list of campaign donors is rife with Kennedy cousins and contacts.

And he still lost.

"There certainly are limits on the Kennedy formula based on region and generation," said Brown University political science professor Darrell West. "The current generation has a mixed memory of the Kennedys - they see the public service but also the public problems."

No Kennedy has ever lost an election in Massachusetts, where the family has its roots. But Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, now running for governor, lost a Maryland congressional bid in 1986. And Edward Kennedy lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter in 1980. More recently, several of Shriver's cousins - notably Max Kennedy in Massachusetts - weighed bids for office before dropping out.

Shriver, 38, generally ran a polite, positive campaign and sought to emphasize his experience rather than his connections. After graduating from Holy Cross in 1986, he founded a Baltimore program to help troubled youths and later served as a state delegate for eight years.

But in a race about resumes, many voters deemed Van Hollen's more imposing. Van Hollen, 43, a state legislator for 12 years, won a spate of newspaper endorsements based on a record of achievement in Annapolis on gun safety, the environment and other issues.

"Shriver had a tightrope to walk," said Bethesda-based pollster Keith Haller. "On one hand, he benefited from the enormous attention and funds from his Kennedy lineage. On the other hand, this larger-than-life image made it very hard to define his persona on his own terms. The real Mark Shriver never fully came through to the electorate beyond his quasi-celebrity status."

Haller said the wealthy, sophisticated district that borders Washington was not as impressed with Shriver's celebrity as many across the nation would have been.

Eager to avoid an impression that he believed himself entitled to the seat now held by Rep. Constance A. Morella, Shriver hustled for votes and raised an impressive $2.5 million

But Van Hollen had a powerful weapon. He has long been a favorite of conservation groups in Annapolis, helping to pass Chesapeake Bay protection laws. In the election, he parlayed that relationship - as well as ties with other interest groups - into votes.

Acting on Van Hollen's behalf, Clean Water Action, a Washington-based advocacy group, contacted many on its database of 16,300 present and former members in the 8th District. Its members also made telephone calls and knocked on doors randomly, identifying about 3,500 Van Hollen supporters and encouraging them to get involved in the campaign.

Also assisting Van Hollen were district residents who had helped organize the 2000 Million Mom March and were impressed with his work two years ago to pass a Maryland law requiring guns to be sold with internal trigger locks.

"What happened throughout the district was that more and more people heard about Chris and, as his name recognition grew, he got more support and Mark stayed in the 35-to-40 percent range," said Steve Jost, Van Hollen's campaign manager.

On election day, Van Hollen "was able to mobilize a huge turnout from his down-county base, comparable to 2000 presidential levels," Haller said.

Van Hollen collected 35,864 votes, or 43 percent, to Shriver's 33,480, or 41 percent, according to the state Board of Elections. About half of eligible voters turned out.

Shriver fared best in Prince George's County, rolling up huge margins in areas populated largely by African-Americans - a longtime core Kennedy constituency. He devoted yesterday to the observance of the Sept. 11 tragedies and was unavailable for comment.

At many polling places Tuesday, voters reported difficulty making up their minds between Shriver, Van Hollen and former Clinton administration trade negotiator Ira Shapiro, who finished third.

"Tough, tough decision," said Ellen Goodman, an administrative aide at a Silver Spring animal shelter. "Ultimately, I chose the person I thought could beat Connie Morella, and that's Van Hollen."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.