Cardin, Conwell to meet in debate tonight

Seven-term Democrat, GOP challenger slated for MPT appearance

October 16, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin always runs a tough race, regardless of the competition, and this year is no different.

The seven-term congressman is now putting his experience and record on the line against Republican hopeful Scott Conwell in the Nov. 5 election.

Tonight, the two go head to head for a half-hour debate on Maryland Public Television. There will likely be no fireworks; Cardin is expected to exude his usual cool confidence as he seeks to retain his 3rd District seat against Conwell. The newcomer is making his first run for public office.

The debate format consists of the candidates giving one-minute responses to questions from the League of Women Voters. There also will be time for 45-second rebuttals and for closing and opening statements.

The candidates strongly differ over supporting President George W. Bush's stance on a possible military strike against Iraq. Conwell criticized Cardin's vote against the resolution and said he would have supported the president. Cardin responded that it was incumbent upon Congress not to relinquish its role by giving the president what amounted to a "blank check."

"I could not support that," he said.

Conwell, a former systems engineer in the Department of Defense, was employed in ballistic-missile defense and helped develop ground-based interceptor missiles. He now works for the law firm of Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti in Washington. Born in Pittsburgh and raised in metropolitan Baltimore, Conwell, 38, entered the Republican primary in June. He won the primary with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

He has stressed the need to address the 3rd District's transportation needs and meet the education needs of the area's children.

Cardin, 59, has been in Congress since 1987 and sits on the House Ways and Means Committee. He also is the ranking member of the Human Resources Subcommittee and is on the Social Security Subcommittee. Before going to Washington, he served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1967 to 1986, and spent his last seven years in state politics as speaker of the House.

He won his last election easily, taking almost 76 percent of the vote. Even with those kinds of numbers, he is not about to take his opponent lightly.

"I've run against all types of people, and I've never changed my style," said Cardin. "I strongly believe it's an opportunity to present yourself to the public."

The redrawn congressional district contains hugely diverse areas. It stretches from Annapolis to Glen Burnie in Anne Arundel County, from Arbutus to Owings Mills in Baltimore County, takes in parts of Columbia in Howard County, and unites the neighborhoods of Guilford and Park Heights in Baltimore.

Conwell has said the federal government should do more to support small businesses, while Cardin has noted the need for a balanced budget that takes into account future tax cuts and does not threaten the Social Security fund.

The debate airs at 7:30 p.m. today on MPT, moderated by Jeff Salkin.

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