- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella has never enjoyed so much support from the Republican leadership and has never needed it more.
Mrs. Morella has received at least $50,000 from the Republican leadership for the election in November after getting nothing in 2000. And party leaders are coming out in force to stump for the eight-term Maryland lawmaker, whose popularity has kept her 8th District seat safely in Republican hands.
"I did not ask for it, but I really appreciate that my colleagues have offered it," she said Thursday, the same day she opposed the repeal of the so-called death tax, one of just four House Republicans to do so.
"I am not out chasing money in other states, and I don't go state to state," she said, referring to the fund-raising efforts of the four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination. Collectively, they have raised more than $3 million, compared with her $1 million.
Mrs. Morella, who represents Montgomery County and part of Prince George's County, will face her toughest election bid yet in November.
In Maryland, Democrats control the redistricting process. After the 2000 census, they set her squarely in their cross hairs, and her already liberal district will become far more Democratic than it has been in years past, if the new lines withstand several legal challenges.
Though she votes with Democrats more often than not, Republicans say they will do everything they can to get Mrs. Morella re-elected and preserve their leadership in the House, where the party has a six-vote margin.
"I have only one litmus test, and that is [that the candidate] vote for a Republican for speaker," said Rep. Thomas M. Davis, III, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Virginia congressman said his committee, which is in charge of electing Republicans to the House, will give Mrs. Morella whatever she needs to win.
As of March 31, the last date for which filing records are available, the party had contributed $50,000 to Mrs. Morella's coffers. And this month, President Bush is hosting a gala event in her honor that is expected to raise $250,000.
The Republican leadership gave nothing to Mrs. Morella's campaign during the last election. Since she entered Congress in 1987, Mrs. Morella has hardly been in a dogfight for her seat, typically winning 60 percent of the vote.
She had the toughest race of her career in 2000, beating a little-known but wealthy Democratic candidate, Terry Lierman, by only 6 percentage points.
State Democrats' efforts to wrest the congressional seat from her this year has steeled her resolve, she said.
"I take it personally," said Mrs. Morella, 71. "Have I done anything to hurt anyone? No. Have I worked with you in the state? Yes.
"I found it very surprising They are backroom bullies who did this because they could not do it at the ballot box. They hoped to get me to retire, but they energized me."
Based on her voting record, Mrs. Morella's approval ratings from such liberal organizations as the Americans for Democratic Action (60 percent) and the American Civil Liberties Union (79 percent) are more in line with those of her Democratic counterparts than with most Republicans.
The Christian Coalition gave her a 7 percent rating for 2000 the second-lowest of the Maryland delegation, which is evenly split, with four Democrats and four Republicans. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat from Baltimore, had a lower rating, with 0 percent.
Mrs. Morella supports abortion rights and homosexual rights, and was one of only four House Republicans to oppose any of the articles of impeachment against President Clinton.
But for the same reason that Republicans are rallying around her, Democrats are working to oust her. Many Democrats say they like Mrs. Morella personally and that she is often in their corner on social issues. But her vote for a Republican speaker is the only vote that really matters, they say, and reason enough to take aim.
House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts, whose approval rating from the Christian Coalition is 100 percent, toured Mrs. Morella's new district in April while she was introducing herself to her new constituents. He said that until nine weeks ago, when he became a grandfather, he "would have taken a bullet for Connie" because of who she is as a person and what she brings to the party.
"I don't think of Connie as a liberal Republican. I think she is as conservative as she could be for her district," said Mr. Watts, of Oklahoma. "I believe in conflict management, not conflict resolution, and we are going to manage [the conflicts within our party] because you are not going to be the majority party if you start kicking people out."
Her fellow delegation members agree.
"Connie is the most conservative Republican we can get in that seat," said Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Republican who has a 93 percent approval rating from the Christian Coalition and 21 percent from the ACLU.
"I tell her all the time she is a much nicer person than her votes and if she ever wants me to come tell her constituents that she is not too conservative, I am happy to do so," Mr. Bartlett said.
Some party activists say privately that funds could be spent better elsewhere, on conservative candidates who would be more loyal.
"If it weren't six votes, they would not care, because you never know when you can trust her," one national party activist said.
But Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chief deputy whip, whose job it is to make sure Republicans stay in line with leadership, said that when it comes to Mrs. Morella's votes, they understand where she is coming from and respect her for it.
"Connie's vote first reflects what is best for her district, and most of us understand that we could not get elected there," Mr. Blunt said.

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