- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, has quietly raised more than $100,000 this week as her campaign for re-election heats up while Democratic opponents are being told to avoid negative campaigning.

Mrs. Morella, 71, has had six fund-raisers so far this week, including the Morella Open Golf Tournament held Monday morning, which brought in $50,000, according to her campaign staff. Other fund-raisers included events in private homes and one at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Tuesday night.

"Some of these little house parties have turned out better than we expected," said Tony Caliguri, Mrs. Morella's campaign manager.

For the first time in recent memory, Mrs. Morella faces a showdown come November, even though she does not yet know who her opponent will be. The hotly contested four-way Democratic primary is Sept. 10. The latest poll, released earlier this month by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications Inc., found that Mrs. Morella has a double-digit lead over both of the front-running Democratic candidates, State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen and Delegate Mark K. Shriver.

Observers, however, do not expect Mrs. Morella's lead to hold after the primary.

"Once the Democrats have a nominee, this race is really going to tighten up," Charlie Cook, editor of the national Cook Report, which analyzes political races around the country, said during an interview on WUSA-9, on Friday.

Some political watchdogs are predicting that Mrs. Morella will lose.

"I actually think it will be a huge story [if she wins]," said Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Report, another political watchdog journal, on the same Friday-morning program.

Mrs. Morella's campaign staff also expects the race to tighten, so they are saving their resources until after the primary and expect to hit the airwaves in the expensive D.C. media market once the nominee is determined.

National Democrats expect the race to get messy after the September primary and are asking the four candidates to avoid negative campaigning, so as not to give Mrs. Morella ammunition in the eight weeks between the primary and the general election.

In an unprecedented move, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Nita Lowey of New York, and Maryland delegation leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer sent the candidates a letter urging them to run on their records and pledge support for the eventual nominee after the election.

"We are confident that the people of the 8th Congressional District are interested in making a change in their congressional representation and want to send someone to Congress that will fight for a progressive agenda. With this in mind, we are asking that you run your campaign on your record and your vision for the 8th Congressional District and refrain from engaging in any kind of negative attacks against your fellow primary opponents," Democratic leaders wrote in a July 19 letter.

Democrats see this race as a golden opportunity for the party to pick up a seat and possibly gain control of the House, which they lost in 1994 after 40 years. Currently Republicans hold a six-seat advantage.

They concede that Mrs. Morella, who has been in Congress 16 years, is a "nice person," but that her vote for control of the chamber is the only thing that matters. Mrs. Morella is considered the most liberal House Republican and often votes with Democrats on a wide variety of issues.

However, as a Republican, she casts one vote at the beginning of each session to determine control of the chamber, and that vote a vote for speaker of the House is the only one that matters, Democrats argue.

Once considered a shoo-in for re-election, Mrs. Morella won her 2000 race by just 4 points over a little-known opponent a race she has said in the past was run on "autopilot."

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