- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

OWINGS MILLS, Md. The only truly testy moment in yesterday's debate between Maryland 8th District U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella and challenger Terry Lierman came when the seven-term Republican congresswoman suggested that her opponent find someplace else to run.

She was referring to Mr. Lierman's attempt to convince voters that Mrs. Morella, despite her independence, helps keep liberal policies many of her Montgomery County constituents care about from being implemented because she belongs to the Republican Party that controls Congress as the majority.

"If my opponent is running against Congress, maybe he better pick another district," Mrs. Morella said during Maryland Public Television's taping of their debate, scheduled to air at 7 p.m. Thursday.

In his opening statement "It's not about Terry, it's not about Connie," Mr. Lierman made it clear his campaign is betting on the value he and other liberals in his party place on winning the seven seats Democrats need to regain control of the House and its agenda.

Her reaction came about halfway through a 30-minute forum, in which the candidates delineated few differences on issues expected to be important to Montgomery County voters.

Mr. Lierman had just advocated licensing and registration of all firearms and complained that the House has not taken a floor vote on legislation that would mandate background checks for all sales at gun shows as well as trigger locks and other gun-control measures.

Mrs. Morella countered that 45 Democrats voted not to close what is called the gun-show "loophole," and that she has marched with the Million Moms and been endorsed by gun-control advocates Sarah and James Brady.

The exchange points out how difficult it has been to delineate major differences between the liberal Republican and the more liberal Democrat.

They agreed that building a new bridge across the Potomac River west of the District needs to be considered to alleviate traffic congestion in the metropolitan area which studies show to be second only to Los Angeles in volume and the worst in the nation in terms of hours and cost.

But both said they'd have trouble supporting a bridge that could hurt environmentally sensitive areas, such as Montgomery County's agricultural preserve through which some business and Virginia political leaders would like to build a new bridge and route.

Mr. Lierman said he'd probably support only any crossing north of Montgomery County.

Mrs. Morella drew attention back to the recently secured federal funding for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and, by association, to her role as a centrist Republican who can build bridges in Congress to its more conservative GOP leaders and get things done for her district.

Mr. Lierman said the district needs to depend more on mass transit to solve its traffic problems and criticized the Wilson Bridge replacement project for not including rail lines needed to build a proposed Metrorail "Purple Line," which would run outside of the Capital Beltway.

It's up to voters to decide how important the two candidates' differences on Medicare, prescription-drug benefits and handling Social Security investments are when they cast their ballots Nov. 7.

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