Elections 2002: Tight race in DC suburb

Oct. 22, 2002 at 12:20 PM
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(Part of UPI's Special Report on Election 2002)

BALTIMORE (UPI) -- In an effort to avoid becoming the best-liked loser in Congress, Rep. Connie Morella unleashed an attack ad on her Democratic challenger --something she had never had to do before in her nine terms representing Maryland in the House of Representatives.

In was an uncharacteristic move for the popular Republican who represents the 8th Congressional District in a Washington, D.C., suburb. But she is in the political fight of her life after Democrats in Maryland gerrymandered her district that has Democrats outnumbering Republicans by 2 to 1.

She and her challenger, Chris Van Hollen, appear to be running a "top this" campaign.

Morella has championed the causes of gun control, children, seniors, unions and the environment and is recognized as a leader in the areas of domestic violence, women's health and education.

Even before a sniper began picking off victims in the Washington suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, Morella, who helped pass the Brady Bill, aired commercials showing Sarah Brady because "she's been with us every single step of the way."

Last year Morella secured $27 million to battle terrorism, $15 million for transportation and $12 million for local parks.

Van Hollen has proposed a five-point gun safety proposal that includes federal firearms "fingerprinting" legislation similar to a state law he helped pass. He is also pitching his record on education and the environment.

But no matter how high Morella's popularity rating -- 77 percent -- or how many legislative accomplishments or how many constituents she's helped, she is trailing Van Hollen because Democrats that have voted for her in the past want a Democratic House of Representatives.

Under a calculation of her redrawn district, in the 2000 presidential race Democrat Al Gore would have taken 66 percent of the votes.

Morella had raised $2 million while Van Hollen, who came from behind in a four-way primary that included the well-funded Maryland Del. Mark Shiver, had $150,000 after the Sept. 10 primary.

Van Hollen, a lawyer with a master's degree in public policy from the JFK School of Government at Harvard, began his political career as a legislative assistant for defense and foreign policy for Sen. Charles Mathias. He then bounced to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before a four-year term in the Maryland House of Delegates and election to the state Senate in 1994.

There Van Hollen, who authored a number of laws in education, health care, the environment and civil rights, was the chief architect of a new funding program that made smaller class sizes, all-day kindergarten and increased teacher training possible.

Before being elected to Congress, Morella served eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates. From 1970 to 1985, she was a professor of English at Montgomery College.

She has an A.B. from Boston University, an M.A. from American University, and with her husband raised nine children, including her late sister's six children.

A recent poll for The Baltimore Sun had Van Hollen leading Morella leading by 3 points; but according to the newspaper Roll Call the GOP's internal polling had Morella up by 6 points. Either way, considering the margin of error of the polls, the race was close.

(Reported by Alex Cukan in Albany, N.Y.)

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