Taylor confident he'll retain House seat

But challenger Myers is making inroads in Western Md. campaign

October 28, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- To hear House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. tell it, his House of Delegates race in the heart of Western Maryland is all but decided.

"I've done a substantial amount of polling," said a confident Taylor. "We're going to win this by 20 points."

But as a rigorous campaign season here winds to a close, he and his team aren't taking chances -- and perhaps for good reason.

Although Taylor, 67, describes his opponent as an "average" opponent, some of the Cumberland Democrat's supporters whisper about his challenger's growing success in winning voters.

"It's scaring me because you are gaining support," David Wallace, 60, a Cumberland resident who is a longtime Taylor supporter, said to LeRoy E. Myers Jr., as the candidate was handing out leaflets recently in the town's business district.

Taylor, the formidable speaker of the House and a Democrat whose tenure in the state legislature spans 28 years, is working hard this run to ensure that his Republican challenger, the owner of a family building contracting business in Clear Spring, does not snatch his long-held seat in the general election Nov. 5.

The race is critical to Democrats in an election year that has seen numerous upsets and retirements among the party's leadership throughout the legislature. For Republicans, the race is an opportunity to unseat a venerable Democratic leader who is known for being a consensus builder in his party.

With support from labor unions and others during the past few days, the Taylor campaign launched a new wave of literature as well as rounds of telephone calls to urge voters to support him for the District 1C delegate seat that includes Allegany County and part of Washington County.

This once-bustling steel, tire and glass manufacturing town in the Appalachian Mountains remains the population center of the district and Taylor's base of support. It's the place where Myers, 50, must make some inroads if he is to seriously compete against Taylor.

The challenge comes as residents in Allegany County, the core of Taylor's base, want more jobs in the area so they won't have to travel to other Maryland counties or to neighboring Pennsylvania or West Virginia for good jobs. They want more money for schools in a county that has not seen a new elementary or secondary education building in decades. And they want the kind of economic boost in their beloved Cumberland that has revived such other Western Maryland cities as Hagerstown and Frederick.

Cumberland Mayor Lee Fiedler, a Republican, and other political leaders in the area say they support Taylor and believe he is the person who can garner the money they need from Annapolis because of his position as speaker of the House. Having a speaker of the House from Western Maryland won't likely happen again for years, if ever, Fiedler and others said.

"It's absolutely key that we keep the speaker of the House," Fiedler said. "I support him as a Republican. I support him as mayor. If you have the right person, party doesn't matter."

Sitting in his district legislative office in downtown Cumberland, where the walls are lined with dozens of awards and citations, Taylor mentioned the longtime bipartisan support he has enjoyed during the past 28 years. He said support from Democrats and Republicans has kept him in office as a Democrat in overwhelmingly Republican Western Maryland, and he said he believes that backing will return him to the General Assembly.

"If I didn't get substantial Republican support, I would never have been able to stay in the legislature for 28 years," Taylor said. "I have never been challenged in my own party. That tells me that Democrats are very comfortable with me.

"In four of the eight elections, the Republicans didn't oppose me either," he said.

Taylor said he believes he would not have had a challenge in this election, if the Maryland Court of Appeals had not ruled Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redistricting map unconstitutional and decided to redraw the state's legislative districts. The new districts moved Myers into the district along with more Republicans, many of whom are strong Myers supporters.

Myers decided in January to run for the House of Delegates from a new district that appeared to have no other candidates. But the new redistricting plan forced Taylor into a race against Myers.

"We've advised this guy to get out of this race," Taylor said. "This guy who's running against me now never ran for anything in his life."

Taylor is running on a legacy that he has built during the past three decades. His achievements include Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort that created 200 jobs near Cumberland, hundreds of jobs through state agencies he had established in the area, and support for the redevelopment of Cumberland's downtown business district.

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