Schrader-Robey contest heats up over attack ads

Maryland Votes 2006

October 25, 2006|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

What had been -- up to now -- a placid contest for a key state Senate seat in Howard County erupted in recriminations this week when incumbent Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader accused Democrats of smearing her with misleading charges on the issue of birth control.

Standing on a bench before a group of about 50 cheering supporters in front of the county office building in Ellicott City on Monday, Schrader blamed County Executive James N. Robey, her Democratic opponent, for a descent into what she called "gutter politics."

At issue were two glossy attack ads mailed late last week to voters in southeastern Howard's District 13. The ads imply that Schrader has banned birth control pills in Howard County.

Robey, a former county police chief, said he had no knowledge or involvement in the ads, which were produced and mailed by the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee, based at state party headquarters in Annapolis.

"I've never met with them. I don't know who they are. I didn't know they [the ads] were coming out," said Robey, who added that he planned to look into the matter.

The cover of one ad shows three cards of 28 birth control pills each under a red banner headline that says "Banned in Howard County." The cover on the other ad shows a man in a medical white coat telling a woman: "I'm sorry, but Senator Sandy Schrader says birth control is off limits."

The fliers also accuse Schrader, a moderate, pro-abortion rights Republican, with following "the national extreme Republican agenda."

Both ads refer to Schrader's votes this year and last against bills that would have allowed state-certified pharmacists to sell the so-called "morning-after pill" emergency contraceptive to women without a prescription.

"This is outrageous," said Schrader. "Let's debate the issues. Let's not lie, distort and put fear into the heads and minds of women. I hold Jim Robey completely responsible for their content."

Schrader voted against the bills, but said that a number of Democrats did as well -- including several female senators and state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who represents parts of Baltimore and Howard counties. This year, the bill died by one vote that Schrader said turned on the lack of an age limit for minors.

"I have a consistent record of supporting the over-the-counter sale of the `morning after' pill to women 18 and older," Schrader said. "Not 12-year-olds, 11-year-olds or 14-year-olds."

She ridiculed the photos of birth control pills on the fliers, saying that the contraceptive in question, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of intercourse, comes in pairs, not in 28-day packs.

In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after years of delay, approved the over-the-counter sale of the pills for women 18 and older.

Robey said he remains committed to running a positive campaign on his record. Looking at the ads attacking Schrader for what he said was the first time Monday, he said he knew nothing of the Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee or its efforts.

"I wouldn't have done that. That's not my style," Robey said yesterday after a Howard County Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum featuring him and Schrader, who sat next to each other. The birth control issue didn't come up at the forum, but several Democrats there said privately they thought the ads were a political blunder because they have given Schrader the aura of the victim of an unfair attack, while handing her an issue with which to attack Robey.

At her news conference Monday, she accused Robey of having problems with women's issues, noting several recent sexual harassment suits by female officers against the county Police Department, and several other incidents from Robey's time as police chief.

Derek Walker, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, said, "We stand by the mailing." He refused to comment on whether more mailings on Schrader are coming.

Robey, meanwhile, said Schrader distorted her record on taxes recently in a newspaper-style mailing from her campaign. Among other things, it attacked Robey for raising taxes and stated that "Senator Sandy Schrader balanced our state budget and solved Maryland's massive $2.1 billion deficit without increasing sales or income taxes."

Schrader defended her literature, saying it is not a distortion. "No, I don't feel that way," she said.

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