- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

Stewart Greenleaf seems to be an ideal candidate to represent Pennsylvania's Montgomery County in the U.S. Congress.

A Republican in a Republican-dominated district, the 60-year-old Upper Marlboro township native has decades of public service 22 in the state senate alone the staunch backing of business leaders, and an enviable reputation on judicial matters burnished during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Improving his chances of winning the election is national interest in his campaign, with tens of thousands of dollars pouring in from Republicans and business and conservative groups. There is just one problem: Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel.

Some discount the freshman Democrat's 1998 victory over Rep. Jon D. Fox, Pennsylvania Republican, noting Mr. Hoeffel's narrow margin of victory. They say almost anyone could have defeated Mr. Fox, who broke the cardinal rule of politics by botching constituent services and being boring to boot.

But others note that in the last two years, Mr. Hoeffel, 50, has carved a name for himself in Washington as a fiscal conservative and social liberal while being mindful of the folks back home, with events like "Saturdays with Joe," a bimonthly public meeting. Mr. Hoeffel also has retained the backing of the unions worth $190,000 so far this election cycle.

Even if he were not an incumbent, Mr. Hoeffel would be a strong candidate. A successful lawyer, with eight years in the Pennsylvania House and another eight as Montgomery County Commissioner, he is well known and well liked in the community.

But Republicans see the county as Republican terrain that has slipped out of their grasp and "they want it back," says John Kohut, senior editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

Mr. Greenleaf, himself a lawyer, has strong credentials he authored Pennsylvania's version of Megan's law and has been sought as a congressional candidate for years, if only to get Mr. Fox off the ballot.

"If [Mr. Greenleaf's] voting record isn't perfect, at least his contacts are, and he can be counted on to give an audience to those who come to see him," the Business Industry Political Action Committee writes on its Web site.

"Joe Hoeffel is never going to be atop anyone's enemies list, because he is too low-key and unassuming, [but] there is little to suggest he is a friend of business," BIPAC writes.

The net result is a classic business/labor battle in which both candidates could raise as much as $1.5 million and be the focus of both major national parties.

There are two third-party candidates, Kevin Cavanaugh running as a Libertarian and Duanne Malaott as an independent, but neither is expected to be a factor in the race.

"It doesn't even appear to be simmering yet, but it is definitely one to watch," said Mr. Kohut. His Rothenberg Political Report lists the race as leaning Democratic, but still too close to call.

Pennsylvania's 13th district includes all but the top fifth of Montgomery County, is mostly white, remarkably well-educated, and, except for a few pockets of poverty, exceptionally affluent.

In April's presidential primary, more than 47,000 voted for the leading Republican candidates, compared to the nearly 26,000 who voted for Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley.

But in recent years, the Republican hold on the U.S. House seat for the district has slipped.

In 1992, Democrat Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky ended Republicans' 76-year hold on the district, defeating Mr. Fox in the bid to succeed Rep. Lawrence Coughlin, Pennsylvania Republican.

Two years later, Mr. Fox won the seat back, but in 1998, Democrat Joseph M. Hoeffel sent the Republican home.

"These suburban districts with dual-income families are the type of area where the business community can achieve a workable majority," BIPAC wrote of Montgomery County.

So far this year, though, Mr. Hoeffel says he has seen internal polls showing him with a real, outside the margin of errors, lead. Mr. Greenleaf says Republican internal polls show the race neck-and-neck and he's glad to be that close.

The candidates are likely to echo the themes of their national parties: broad-based tax cuts and local control of federal education grants for Mr. Greenleaf, and targeted tax cuts and prescription drug benefits for the elderly from Mr. Hoeffel's camp.

But so far neither side has really engaged, and few expect the race between the two soft-spoken candidates to get nasty.

"He makes Hoeffel look exciting," Mr. Kohut said, describing Mr. Greenleaf.

Mr. Greenleaf says he is intentionally steering his campaign away from stridency.

"The first change I want to make is in the atmosphere down there, [and] the place to start is with the election," Mr. Greenleaf says.

Pushed to criticize Mr. Hoeffel for voting against legislation that would ease trade restrictions with China, Mr. Greenleaf refuses, saying instead that he would have voted for the bill.

Then asked whether Mr. Hoeffel's ties to labor unions swayed his vote, Mr. Greenleaf responded quickly, "You said that, not me.

"This is going to be a positive campaign."

Mr. Hoeffel sounds a similar theme, saying in the relatively moderate district of Montgomery County being shrill will not help.

For example, the county has more senior citizens than the national average, and Social Security and health care are some of the top concerns. Mr. Hoeffel says his record positively reflects his position on the issues and there is no reason to attack anyone.

"The challenger bears the burden of proof," Mr. Hoeffel said.

Mr. Hoeffel concedes that Mr. Greenleaf probably will match him in dollars raised, but in the end the vote will come down to whether the voters want a change. He says the answer will be no.

Mr. Hoeffel had raised $750,065 through the first quarter of the year compared to Mr. Greenleaf's $524,760. But the bulk of Mr. Hoeffel's advantage comes from a whopping $181,250 contribution from labor unions and another $92,000 from ideological groups, including Democratic organizations and fellow Democratic lawmakers.

In the hunt for individual contributions, Mr. Greenleaf has a slight advantage, with $404,267 to Mr. Hoeffel's $400,531.

Big-name groups also are entering the fray, with the National Federation of Independent Businesses backing Mr. Greenleaf, and the fiscally hawkish Concord Coalition placing Mr. Hoeffel on its honor roll.

But even so, the sniping that has begun in some districts is mostly absent.

Matthew Garth, regional director for the NFIB, concedes he does not quite know what to do next for Mr. Greenleaf and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it will wait to see how Mr. Hoeffel is doing before it takes any further steps.

"It is one of the top 25 [House races]," Mr. Kohut said. "It's just pretty quiet."

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