- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Candidates for Montgomery County's 8th District congressional seat answered questions ranging from gun-control laws to the income-tax cut, transportation and health insurance at a debate last night on Montgomery College's Rockville campus.
Incumbent Rep. Constance A. Morella, Republican, state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen, Democrat, and Stephen Bassett, an independent candidate, often gave similar answers to questions from the moderator and two other panelists.
Yet each stressed that he or she could make a difference in Congress if elected.
Mrs. Morella, at home on a campus where she taught for 15 years, said voters from the constituency were a "most intelligent, highly educated" lot who would choose their candidate for "the record and for merit and not for party labels."
"I've demonstrated my independence, my accountability," Mrs. Morella told voters in the district where she had won eight elections but which became even more Democratic after state legislators redrew district lines this year.
The district now covers southern from Bethesda to Rockville andinto western Montgomery County to the Potomac River.
The redistricting cut a swath through the middle of the county now linked to the 4th District represented by Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat.
"It is far more advantageous for Montgomery County to have someone who has access to the majority party [in the House] to be a strong minority voice in the majority party," said Mrs. Morella, who often votes with Democrats on issues such as abortion choice and gun control.
Mr. Van Hollen stressed his own voting record in the state Senate on gun control, education funding and health care.
"I have a record at the state legislature of working for the issues," he said, stressing his support for trigger locks and ballistic fingerprinting, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and health care access for seniors.
Mr. Bassett, who describes himself as the "only registered lobbyist in the U.S. representing UFO/ET research organizations," said he would work to bring to light research on extraterrestrials that the federal government is withholding from citizens.
He spoke of reports of UFO sightings and information suppressed by the military and airlines.
"There is a presence and you will come to know about it," he told voters.
The 8th District race is one of the closest in the state this year, with Mr. Van Hollen and Mrs. Morella neck and neck in recent polls. One poll released late last month by Potomac Research Inc., a Bethesda-based polling group, showed Mr. Van Hollen leading Mrs. Morella by 3 percentage points. The lead was called "statistically insignificant" given the 3.5 percent margin of error.
The seat is crucial to both parties because it could decide whether or not the Republicans hold control over the House of Representatives for the next two years.
The two leading candidates agreed yesterday on the need for the country's war on terrorism to be broad-based, and both supported U.N. mandates for any military strike against Iraq.
Polls show voters in the district to be supportive of strong gun control. The recent sniper shootings in the region have focused attention on the issue.
Mrs. Morella said she voted to tighten federal gun-control laws and was backing a bill to improve background checks and keep guns out of the hands of felons, abusers and the mentally ill.
Mr. Van Hollen, who recently proposed a five-point gun safety measure, said the Bush administration had done nothing for gun-control laws.
"The [National Rifle Association] is operating out of the White House, and out of the government," he said. "These leaders in the House of Representatives will not allow common-sense gun-control laws to pass. For that, the leadership will have to change," he said.
Mr. Morella and Mr. Van Hollen also stressed their support for campaign finance reforms and for the Inter-County Connector, a highway that would link Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George's County. Supporters say the connector would ease gridlock on county roads.
Mr. Bassett, however, warned that one highway would lead to another and soon "this area will look like L.A. You don't want that."

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