- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

ANNAPOLIS (AP) Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella will have a hard time winning re-election under the governor's redistricting proposal, top Democratic state lawmakers said yesterday.

The centrist Republican, who has held the 8th District seat in Montgomery County since 1987, will be pressed to retain the seat in the redrawn district, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said.

Democrats and Republicans are pressing for state leaders to draw districts that could elect members who could decide which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

Although Mrs. Morella's district would be compressed southward and its Democratic voter registration would edge up from 60 percent to 65 percent, Republicans said her centrist views have created a loyalty among constituents that would be hard to break.

A spokesman for Mrs. Morella noted that she had represented some of those areas before 1992. However, turnover in those neighborhoods is high, and she probably will have to introduce herself to many of them.

Even though Democrats are likely to pick up a seat, Mr. Miller said he is disappointed that the five-member commission did not back his plan, which he said would have given Democrats a good chance at winning six of Maryland's eight seats in Congress.

The proposal was being distributed yesterday to the eight incumbents four Democrats and four Republicans.

The plan is not final and could be changed before Gov. Parris N. Glendening presents it to the General Assembly. But Mr. Taylor said it is unlikely major changes will be made.

The governor's advisory commission which includes Mr. Taylor and Mr. Miller voted 4-1 on Wednesday to send out its proposal to the members of Congress. Mr. Taylor said it was not a final proposal, but was "a concept plan."

As it stands, the plan would leave three congressional districts in the Baltimore area and two in the Washington suburbs. Mr. Miller had wanted to shift a seat to the rapidly growing Washington area, which picked up two districts in the legislative-redistricting plan.

"The population growth dictates that a third [congressional] seat could and should shift over as well," Mr. Miller said.

Delegate Rushern L. Baker, chairman of the Prince George's County delegation in the House of Delegates, said he supported Mr. Miller's plan.

"We think that, given the population, we deserve an extra seat," Mr. Baker said.

However, Mr. Miller said most incumbents will be happy with the plan, including Republicans Wayne T. Gilchrest in the 1st District and Roscoe G. Bartlett in the 6th District.Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who is considering whether to run for governor or re-election, is the only incumbent who was put outside his district in the redrawing. Although Mr. Ehrlich's home is near the 1st and 2nd district lines and he could run for re-election in either, he said he will not run against fellow Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who represents the 1st District.

Although Mr. Ehrlich has edged toward running for governor, he said yesterday he has obligations beyond his personal political career to help make sure his seat doesn't go to a Democrat.

"I have to make sure I can look [Republican House Speaker] Denny Hastert and [National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman] Tom Davis in the eye," Mr. Ehrlich said. "It's something I've been lobbied quite heavily on in the last few weeks."

Mr. Miller said if Mr. Ehrlich runs in his old district and is challenged by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat, there would be an outside chance Mr. Ruppersberger would win.

There was no immediate response from members of Congress because they had not yet received copies of the proposal.

Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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