Campaign puts focus on values, service

Ruppersberger, Brooks, Salkowski vie in District 2

Iraq figures largely in contest

Election 2004

October 25, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The two major party candidates in the race for the 2nd Congressional District seat are eager to talk about the war in Iraq.

Not just about the right or wrong of waging a war there or the best exit strategy for the United States, but plane rides home for soldiers and a mother's daily jitters over the safety of a son who spent a year fighting in the war.

Incumbent Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's first term earned him his highest profile when he arranged for "Operation Hero Miles," an effort to provide frequent-flyer miles through donations for troops and their families. It's the first program the Democrat mentions when asked about his legislative record as a freshman congressman.

"It got so good we ended up over a six-month period with over 540 million frequent-flyer miles," he said, adding that a bill that would codify the program recently passed both legislative houses.

Republican candidate Jane Brooks periodically turns conversation to her son's service in Iraq as an Army infantryman - part of her stated campaign focus on "faith, family and freedom." Jacob Brooks returned home last month.

"I understand what these families went through," said Jane Brooks, a Dundalk resident who worked as an aide to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for three years when he held the 2nd District seat.

Ruppersberger and Brooks are joined in the race by Green Party candidate Keith Salkowski, a Towson filmmaker who says his presence is part of an effort to "give voters a lot more choices than they've ever had."

"You're not going to be the dominant party in one election cycle," he said. "We're making important and significant progress."

It's a much quieter campaign than two years ago when two political powerhouses - Ruppersberger, the two-term Baltimore County executive, and Helen Delich Bentley, who once held the seat - ran hard in a newly redrawn district that had gained Democratic voters.

Democrats in the 2nd, a claw-shaped district with parts of Baltimore, Harford and Anne Arundel counties as well as a snippet of the city, outnumber Republicans by a two-to-one margin. But the district includes Democrats who have voted Republican in the past. Until the 2002 election, Republicans had long represented it.

In this race, Ruppersberger raised $700,000, compared to Brooks' $38,000, according to the most recent federal campaign finance reports. Salkowski did not file a report, which is not required for campaigns that raise less than $5,000.

Brooks said she believes she can win against an incumbent she contends is out of touch with constituents like her - working-class people who struggle with health care costs. Brooks, 53, whose husband is a letter carrier in Dundalk, said she wants more manufacturing jobs and a return to a simpler America with a focus on faith and family.

"I understand the position that most people are in. I'm not a professional politician," said Brooks, who ran for the House of Delegates in 1998 and 2002.

But Ruppersberger, 58, said he worked hard as a freshman legislator - a designation that traditionally carries little clout - with an eye on the needs of his district, which includes Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the port of Baltimore, Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground. A Baltimore County executive known for his teamwork approach, he said he has reached across the political aisle as a congressman to try to reach accord on issues important to him.

During his first term, he earned freshman leadership spots and a committee assignment that took him to the world's political hotspots and into the midst of the U.S. intelligence community. In addition to the Hero Miles program, he has co-sponsored legislation to increase tax credits for purchasers of hybrid vehicles and to fund programs to help wounded veterans transition to civilian life. Both bills are pending.

"I'm a fighter, and I'm an implementer. That's my style," he said. "If I feel strongly about something, I don't blink."

Salkowski, 46, said he knows his chances for winning in a district where a fraction of 1 percent of registered voters belong to his party are slim. But he figures the campaign is the best way to raise the Green Party's profile while also pushing for universal health care, alternative energy sources and a living wage for all Americans.

For more information on Maryland political races, go to www.baltimoresun.com/election2004.

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