Congressional Race

Fight for 3rd District occurs on strange new battleground

Odd boundaries set in '02 are influencing campaign

October 22, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has been a key player in state politics for more than two decades, but as he runs for a 10th term, he is having to introduce himself to many voters in a district that radically changed two years ago.

His Republican challenger, Robert P. Duckworth, is a familiar name to voters in the newest areas of Maryland's 3rd Congressional District; he has run for Congress twice and served as Anne Arundel County's Circuit Court clerk since 1994.

But Duckworth faces a challenge of his own: spreading his name through neighborhoods that have overwhelmingly supported Cardin since 1986.

The battle for the oddly shaped district -- which includes parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties -- has strongly echoed the presidential debate, with each man adhering to his party's core positions.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Friday on the congressional race in the 3rd District omitted candidate Patsy Allen. An article about her appears today on Page 2B.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"I face every election with a similar strategy, and I'm confident," said Cardin, 61, in describing his consistent Democratic voting record.

Duckworth says that record no longer fits a district that became more conservative when new district boundaries were drawn in 2002.

"Ben Cardin doesn't relate to the entire district the way he once did," said Duckworth, 64. "I'm someone who's more in touch with the new voters in the new Third."

Political observers say congressional challengers almost always face steep climbs to defeat better-known, better-financed incumbents. As of Sept. 30, Cardin had raised $763,290 to Duckworth's $139,620, according to federal election records.

"Cardin is just too well-entrenched, too well-known," said James G. Gimpel, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. "To his credit, [Duckworth has] got some credentials as a candidate. But there's just no money there."

Republicans said they hope the recent redistricting -- in which a section of Anne Arundel County replaced parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County -- will give Duckworth a boost.

"Bob has an established record as an elected official in Anne Arundel County, and I think that will be enough for him to defeat Ben Cardin in a district that's become more conservative," said Michael Malone, chairman of the Anne Arundel Republican State Central Committee.

Anne Arundel now makes up the biggest share (38 percent) of an awkwardly shaped district that includes Owings Mills, Towson, Columbia, Federal Hill and Annapolis.

Cardin won with 66 percent of the vote in 2002, but his margin was narrowest in Anne Arundel, where Duckworth has won three elections. Although Anne Arundel is one of the state's most conservative counties, the 3rd District leans Democratic; in 2000, Democrat Al Gore captured 55 percent of the vote to 41 percent for Republican George W. Bush.

Cardin, a Stevenson resident who has a nephew in the Maryland legislature, served as the state's speaker of the house before being elected to Congress. In Washington, he has gained a reputation as an expert on health care, welfare and retirement issues who is capable of working with Republicans on measures such as the 1998 reform of the Internal Revenue Service. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Cardin said that the United States has lost the credibility it needs to bring other nations into Iraq, but that independent organizations such as NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe might have more success. Cardin said the nation must cultivate broader alliances in dealing with Iran, which he called more dangerous than Iraq.

He favors rolling back President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans to help balance the federal budget. He opposes any privatization of Social Security.

Cardin ticked off a long list of local projects for which he has helped secure federal funds, including the cleanup of the Naval Academy after Tropical Storm Isabel, new bicycle and jogging paths in Pasadena and Baltimore, and road improvements around Baltimore County.

"Cardin has a pretty impeccable record of constituent service," Gimpel said.

Many of Duckworth's positions hew closely to those of President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress.

The Crofton resident favors extending the Bush tax cuts, allowing workers to invest a portion of their Social Security benefits and reducing health costs by limiting malpractice rewards. He said he would push for a bipartisan committee -- similar to the independent Sept. 11 commission -- to investigate the causes of rising health care costs.

Duckworth favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (a measure Cardin opposes). Duckworth expressed strong support for the invasion of Iraq and for keeping troops there. He expressed hope that diplomatic efforts will succeed in other international hot spots such as Iran and North Korea.

He said that congressional Republicans have spent too freely in recent years and that he would push for fiscal conservatism.

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