- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2000

Surely, Marylanders deserve to have a two-party system. Not since Charles "Mac" Mathias retired from his U.S. Senate seat in 1986 has a Republican (however liberal or conservative) represented Maryland in the Senate. Dozens have tried and failed. Maryland Republicans are hoping 2000 will indeed be the year the tide turns in their favor. Judging by the size of the Republican field, there's hope that a candidate can be found to challenge the Democratic status quo. It will certainly not be for want of trying.

Eight Republicans are vying for the nod to go head-to-head against Sen. Paul Sarbanes in November's general election. A few, including Paul Rappaport, Ross Pierpont, Robin Ficker, Kenneth Wayman, and Kenneth Timmerman, have what pundits call statewide name recognition, while others, such as Rob Sobhani, a Montgomery County businessman and college instructor, are well-known in certain local areas. Regardless, none of the Republicans is expected to win by a wide margin, and 30,000 votes could be enough to win the nomination.

A recent Mason-Dixon poll helps put the task before them into perspective. It showed Mr. Sarbanes has 56 percent name recognition. Mr. Rappaport has just 30 percent. Mr. Ficker, an ex-state legislator and anti-tax proponent from Montgomery County, has just 17 percent.

An advantage for Democrats in the general election is that they have a relatively strong statewide party organization and don't hesitate to use it. In recent days Maryland Democrats have been running radio ads targeting black voters in which Gov. Parris Glendening and Reps. Al Wynn and Elijah Cummings urge Marylanders to vote not just Democrat, not just for Paul Sarbanes, but to vote for a team.

Republicans don't have such a "team" nor plans to take advantage of what few elected officials it counts as members. "The party doesn't grasp that concept," says one aspiring GOP nominee. Rep. Connie Morella, perhaps the most popular Republican in the state, is a party liberal who often votes with President Clinton. The GOP candidates may or may not agree with her politics, but she has also made a name for herself by paying attention to local concerns, something from which her fellow Republicans could learn.

Foreign relations and defense policies are high on the list of candidate Timmerman, who has been endorsed by a wide array of distinguished Republican foreign policy experts. These are issues of national importance, and cannot be underestimated. The question is whether they will be the ones to bring out the voters in a state that is poised to take over poorly performing public schools. There are other issues closer to home the candidates need to speak up about too, such as the Inter-County Connector, which Mr. Glendening opposes, tax cuts that Marylanders are crying out for, and headline-grabbing crime and drug rates. Democrats have always known how to work the issues close to home, even if their solutions have been proven wrong-headed. The Republican candidate will need to be equipped to meet Mr. Sarbanes on those battlegrounds.

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