- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

Candidates for Maryland's 8th District congressional seat discussed issues ranging from the funding of English-language programs in schools to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in North Korea at a debate last night in Potomac.
As has become a trademark of the race between Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella and her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., the candidates agreed more often than they disagreed. And during the hourlong forum, sponsored by the Asian-American Political Alliance, the two did not engage each other directly.
The two agreed that civil liberties can't be sacrificed in the name of national security, and that U.S. action against North Korea's developing nuclear-weapons program should take the form of negotiation.
They both said President Bush's 2001 tax cuts need to be revisited in the face of a sluggish economy, although Mrs. Morella defended the role of the tax cuts in stimulating the economy before September 11.
The seat the candidates are vying for is critical to both parties because it could decide whether Republicans continue to control the U.S. House of Representatives for the next two years.
Mrs. Morella referred to her "independent experience" and her "senior voice" in Congress, as well as her long history of service to the community.
"I have worked day and night for 16 years to earn your trust," Mrs. Morella said, touting the "47,000-plus" constituent cases she has helped solve during her eight terms.
"I believe in the people. I believe in reaching across the aisle. Montgomery County has a rich tradition of voting for the person on the basis of achievement and merit, not on party labels," she said.
With just a net gain of seven votes necessary for the Democrats to attain a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, Mr. Van Hollen stressed the need for change.
"I believe we need a change," he said. "We need a change here in the community and we need a change in the leadership of Congress."
Mrs. Morella, a centrist Republican who often votes with Democrats on issues such as abortion rights and gun control, has easily won re-election in her heavily Democratic district eight times.
But redistricting earlier this year hurt Mrs. Morella. The biggest change was losing a swath across the middle county to the 4th District, represented by Democratic Rep. Albert R. Wynn.
The race remains a statistical dead heat, according to a poll of 563 likely voters conducted Oct. 26-28 by Potomac Survey Research for the Baltimore Sun and the Gazette newspapers. Mrs. Morella leads Mr. Van Hollen by 2 percentage points, 44 percent to 42 percent, with 14 percent undecided. Mrs. Morella's lead climbs to 3 points when undecided voters leaning one way or another are included. The margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points. A month ago, Mr. Van Hollen led by 3 percentage points.
According to the poll, 76 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of Mrs. Morella, compared with 56 percent of voters who have a favorable opinion of Mr. Van Hollen. And while 18 percent of those polled hold an unfavorable opinion of Mrs. Morella, those who hold an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Van Hollen jumped 15 percent from last month to 26 percent in the latest poll.
Most of the crowd of about 200 that filled the cafeteria of Winston Churchill High School, where the debate was held, seemed evenly divided between the candidates and wore stickers declaring their support for one or the other.
Beatrice Lam of Potomac was attracted by Mr. Van Hollen's call for change.
"I used to vote Republican, but now I'm switching to Democrat," Miss Lam said. "Connie's a nice candidate but she's been there a long time."
James Nguyen, 57, of Potomac said he had voted for Mrs. Morella eight times and was prepared to make it nine on Nov. 5.
"I've gone a long way with Connie," he said. "I'll vote for her as long as she runs."

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