- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

One key race that will help decide control of the House of Representatives will occur in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District, represented for the past eight years by Rep. Robert Ehrlich, the Republican nominee for governor. Despite the fact that the Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the old district by approximately 3-2, Mr. Ehrlich, who was successful in attracting moderate and conservative Democratic voters, repeatedly won re-election by wide margins.
So, the Democrats who control the General Assembly moved some of the most Republican areas out of the district, hoping to pave the way for Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger to win the seat. Ordinarily, a well-known Democrat like Dutch (as he is known to friends and foe alike) would be a prohibitive favorite to win in the reconstituted 2nd District. But, that's not the case this year, and it's due largely to the popularity of the Republican nominee: 78-year-old former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who represented much of the current 2nd District in Congress from 1985-95.
Although far from a down-the-line free-marketeer (she is, for one thing, an ardent protectionist), Mrs. Bentley compiled a generally conservative voting record during her previous tenure in the House. A major focus of her current campaign is national defense. In announcing her candidacy, Mrs. Bentley called on Americans to unite behind President Bush if he determines it is necessary to take pre-emptive military action against radical states like Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
By contrast, the issues emphasized by Mr. Ruppersberger and his liberal allies are straight out of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's domestic political playbook. In tandem with liberal interest groups such as the League of Conservation Voters, the Democrats are seeking to caricature Mrs. Bentley as a despoiler of the environment and a tool of greedy corporate evildoers who support tax cuts for the rich and oppose prescription drugs for the elderly. Clearly, cost is no object when it comes to Dutch's desires on the taxpayers' wallets. His campaign Web site, for example, states that Mrs. Bentley supports creation of a new federal prescription-drug entitlement program that would cost a miserly $320 billion from 2005-12. By contrast, Mr. Ruppersberger is touting a Democratic alternative that would cost between $800 billion and $973 billion over the same period.
But, if Mr. Ruppersberger (who holds a narrow lead according to the most recent poll) loses to Mrs. Bentley, it will be due in large part to his disastrous performance in handling, as county executive, of Senate Bill 509, a bitterly contested law backed by Dutch two years ago that would have expanded the county's eminent domain authority. While lobbying the General Assembly to pass the bill, Mr. Ruppersberger apparently failed to notify owners of more than 300 properties in his county that the county wanted their land, and was prepared to go to court in order to take it. In November 2000, county residents voted more than 2-1 to reject SB 509, handing Dutch a humiliating defeat. Mrs. Bentley, who has the strong support of small property owners who opposed the measure, rarely passes up a chance to emphasize her respect for property rights and denounce Mr. Ruppersberger's SB 509 debacle.
For these and other reasons, The Washington Times endorses the election of Helen Bentley in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District.

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