- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2002

TIMONIUM, Md. Maryland's 2nd Congressional District is an important battleground in the fight for control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Republican leaders united behind Helen Bentley to forestall a potentially damaging primary battle.
But Democrats were unable to do the same for Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was the choice of party officials to try to reclaim a seat that has been in Republican hands since Mrs. Bentley knocked off Democrat Clarence Long in 1984.
The seat is vacant because incumbent Robert Ehrlich, who replaced Mrs. Bentley eight years ago when she sought the Republican nomination for governor, is making a gubernatorial bid this year.
Mr. Ruppersberger is facing a significant challenge from investment banker Oz Bengur, who has raised about $500,000, including $300,000 of his own money, to try to win the Democratic primary on Sept. 10.
Mr. Bengur said he rejected requests from Democratic leaders that he not run against Mr. Ruppersberger, who has been county executive for eight years.
"I told them I was going to stay in the race," he said. "I don't think somebody who was anointed by the party bigwigs deserves to be elected just because of that."
Mr. Ruppersberger, who said he has not altered his campaign because of the Bengur challenge, starts out with a big advantage. Mr. Bengur has not held public office and was not well-known in the district when he entered the race.
"Our polling showed that Dutch had almost universal name recognition. That's the first hurdle for any challenger who hasn't held office before," said Carol Arscott, partner in Gonzales/Arscott Research, an Annapolis-based polling and consulting company.
But she said if Mr. Bengur spends his money wisely, "he can buy the name recognition he needs."
The two Democrats don't differ much on the issues.
Both cast themselves as centrists who worry about the future of Social Security, think the federal government must do more in the areas of health care and prescription drug coverage and decry the damage resulting from corporate corruption.
But both men also warn against the dangers of overreacting to examples of corporate mismanagement.
"We cannot beat corporate America down because that's who creates jobs," Mr. Ruppersberger said.
Mr. Ruppersberger's service as a county executive and County Council member may be a mixed blessing. Miss Arscott said about a quarter of voters surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of him.
Some of that opposition is the result of a proposed law Mr. Ruppersberger championed two years ago that would have given the county more power to condemn land for a revitalization project in three communities. County voters rejected it soundly in the 2000 election.
Mr. Bengur, hoping to capitalize on ill will left over from the fight, has been running a cable television ad reminding voters of the battle over Senate Bill 509.
"That's a metaphor for a lot of the things he's done as county executive," Mr. Bengur said. "He's shown a pattern of arrogance."
But Mr. Bengur might have trouble capitalizing on whatever anti-Ruppersberger sentiment exists because there will be three other names on the Democratic ballot James DeLoach and Kenneth Bosley of Baltimore County and Brian Davis of Baltimore.
Mr. Bosley's name will be familiar to some Democrats because he won the primary in 1998 and 2000 when no well-known Democrats were willing to challenge Mr. Ehrlich. The Baltimore County farmer got 31 percent of the vote each time in the general election.
Mrs. Bentley has two primary opponents, Scott Young and James Madregan, but neither is well-known among voters and Republicans expect her to win an overwhelming victory.
"I think she can go to sleep and wake up on Election Day and win the primary," Delegate James Ports, a Baltimore County Republican, said.
Mr. Young, a 29-year-old Baltimore County resident, said he decided to make his first foray into politics because Republican officials said they want "younger candidates, people with fresh ideas."
"I haven't heard any fresh new ideas coming from her," he said.
Mrs. Bentley, 79, was elected to Congress in 1984 and served eight years before entering the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1992, a race she lost to Ellen Sauerbrey.
Democrats need to pick up six seats nationally to wrest control of Congress away from the Republicans, and both parties see the 2nd District race as one that could go either way.
Gov. Parris Glendening and Democratic legislative leaders fashioned a district designed to give Mr. Ruppersberger a good chance of winning.
It meanders through Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties and includes a bit of Baltimore City.
The district is substantially different and more Democratic than the old 2nd District.
But even after eight years out of office, Mrs. Bentley is popular with voters in parts of Baltimore County that have been Ruppersberger strongholds.
If they are the nominees, as expected, the 2nd District race could wind up as close as the national battle for control of the House of Representatives.

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