- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The national Republican and Democratic parties are closely watching the outcome of two congressional primaries in Maryland, with the Republican's six-seat margin in the House of Representatives on the line.

In the left-leaning 8th District, Democrats are gunning for a seat held by Rep. Constance A. Morella, a centrist Republican who is considered one of the most vulnerable House incumbents. The 2nd District seat is up for grabs, Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. having decided to run for governor.

"The two competitive districts in Maryland give us some of our best opportunities to pick up Republican-held seats this fall," said Kim Rubey, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans, however, are confident they will hold onto both seats.

"We are in great position," said Steve Schmidt, communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Helen Bentley [the 2nd District Republican candidate] is running ahead and Connie [Morella] is well ahead of all the Democrats."

Five Democrats were competing for the chance to take on Mrs. Morella, and it was expected to be a close race between Delegate Mark K. Shriver and state Sen. Chris Van Hollen. The other candidates were Ira S. Shapiro, Deborah A. Vollmer and Anthony Jaworski.

Mr. Shriver and Mr. Van Hollen campaigned actively over the last year, vying for the chance to take on Mrs. Morella, an eight-term incumbent who routinely sails to re-election with more than 65 percent of the vote. Democrats see this as their best chance to defeat Mrs. Morella, 71.

A redistricting plan drawn up by state Democrats placed the more-Democratic precincts of southeastern Montgomery County and parts of Prince George's County in the 8th District and removed rural upcounty areas where she had strong support.

While Mrs. Morella often votes with Democrats, her would-be challengers say her vote keeps the House leadership in Republican hands.

"This is one of the six seats that if it goes to the Democratic column, it could put [House Minority Leader Richard A.] Gephardt in control," Mr. Shriver said during a candidate debate last week. "Some people say that Connie Morella is 'not so bad.' But I say 'not so bad' is not good enough. Connie Morella is an enabler, and I think it's time to stop."

Democrats also are hoping to pick up the open seat in the 2nd District, another district made more Democratic through redistricting. It includes much of Baltimore County, but after redistricting now also includes parts of Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County.

Maryland lawmakers drew the lines for the district to favor Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, to dissuade him from challenging Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for the party's gubernatorial nomination.

Mr. Ruppersberger, who cannot seek re-election as county executive, faced four other candidates for the Democratic spot on November's ballot.

Republicans are expected to nominate Mrs. Bentley, 78, a former House representative who retired in 1994 after five terms to seek the nomination for governor.

In other congressional primaries, U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest faced a strong challenge from lawyer David Fischer for the Republican nomination in the Eastern Shore's 1st District. Mr. Fischer campaigned heavily against Mr. Gilchrest's centrist voting record and received a sizable amount of outside help from the Club for Growth, a conservative activist group. Mr. Gilchrest has represented the 1st District since 1991.

"Anyone in America has the right to run for office, but at the end of day, I think Wayne Gilchrest is going to win," said Mr. Schmidt of the National Republican Congressional Committee, which typically endorses incumbents in contested primaries.

In the 3rd District which includes parts of Baltimore city and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties voters had to choose between incumbent Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin and computer salesman John Rea for the Democratic nomination. Scott Conwell, 38, a lawyer from Anne Arundel County, and Michael P. Jackson, 36, a landscaper from Arnold, competed for the Republican spot.

Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn, 51, faced off against former Glenarden Mayor Don Williams in the 4th District, located in Prince George's County. The Republican primary was between four political newcomers.

Joseph Crawford, a business consultant from Walforf, was unopposed in the Republican primary in the 5th District, which encompasses much of Southern Maryland, including portions of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and all of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. Mr. Crawford will face 10-term Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, 63, who was unopposed.

In the 6th District a Republican stronghold in Western Maryland represented by Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett since 1993 Mr. Bartlett, 76, will face either 2000 Democratic nominee Donald M. DeArmon or Kevin M. Shaffer.

Incumbent Elijah Cummings faced challenges from three other Democrats, while Joseph Ward ran unopposed for the Republican nomination in the 7th District, which is primarily in Baltimore city and overwhelmingly Democratic.

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