Hopefuls relieved by arrests in attacks

Officials had worried about voters' safety

Talk turns to gun-control issue

October 25, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland's gubernatorial campaigns joined the rest of the state in expressing relief yesterday over the capture of the men authorities believe are connected to the sniper shootings terrorizing the Washington suburbs.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening indefinitely postponed a meeting intended to design ways to ensure voter safety at polls Nov. 5, and candidates from both parties indicated they hope the campaigns will regain as much of a sense of normality as possible.

"We're tremendously relieved for the safety of everyone in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia and that's first and foremost," said David Paulson, a spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party. "Obviously, from a campaign point of view, it is a major cloud that's been lifted."

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he is pleased that "Maryland is a safer place for everyone. So much carnage, so many lives altered."

Until yesterday morning, Maryland candidates, party officials and authorities had been growing increasingly concerned about what effect the sniper shootings might have on next month's state and local elections.

Specifically, Democrats have been worried that voters in the Washington suburbs might be afraid to go to the polls - significantly reducing turnout in the two heavily Democratic jurisdictions of Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

High turnout in those jurisdictions is deemed crucial for Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's bid for governor.

Democrats and Republicans also struggled with volunteers fearful of walking door to door in Montgomery and Prince George's neighborhoods to talk to voters and distribute literature.

And Glendening had begun having discussions about steps that might be taken to ensure voters didn't stay away on Election Day, even raising the possibility of calling out the National Guard at some poll sites.

But with yesterday's arrest of the men said to be responsible for the shootings, attention began focusing again on politics and the election.

"If these guys are the guilty parties, we can all sleep better tonight and we can get back to our jobs, including those of us in politics," said Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm.

The question facing the campaigns is what has been lost during the three weeks in which Marylanders have been focused on the sniper shootings.

"One of the practical side effects is that the campaign activity has been severely curbed over the last several weeks, especially in the Washington area," said pollster Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research in Bethesda.

The return to the gubernatorial campaign meant Ehrlich and Townsend stepped up the debate over gun control - which the sniper shootings have made a higher profile issue.

Ehrlich began airing a new television ad hitting Townsend and the Glendening administration for its record on crime - including the revelation last week that background checks had been halted on some gun purchases this year due to a budget shortfall.

"It's about negligent government," Ehrlich said. "They had the time and the money, and they say they had the inclination, and they just didn't do it."

Townsend said yesterday that she welcomed a debate on gun control in the campaign. "If he wants to talk about guns, I'm happy to talk about it," she said. "If somebody is interested in who is going to have common-sense gun laws, I think the choice is clear."

This morning, Townsend's campaign will begin airing a response to Ehrlich's ad, chronicling several of his votes against gun control and calling him "the NRA candidate for governor."

Earlier yesterday, Ehrlich and Townsend spoke to the annual meeting of the Maryland Nursing Association at the Maritime Institute in Linthicum.

Both appeared to enjoy strong support among the nurses, and both pledged to be more attentive to needs and demands of the nursing profession than the Glendening administration has been.

Townsend also pledged that she would support a measure sought by nurses that would have let nurse practitioners serve as primary care providers for patients in HMOs. The measure was narrowly approved by the General Assembly last year, but Glendening vetoed it.

"That's why I can't wait to be governor, because now I will sign this bill," Townsend told the nurses. "I will make sure the bill gets passed."

Ehrlich declined to say that he would sign such legislation, but promised the nurses that he would "work with you."

He also emphasized that in Congress, he sponsored legislation this year to attract more nurses to the profession by increasing scholarships and other measures.

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