|Candidates Vye for Endorsements, Support|
Sept. 16, 2002 -- With the Republicans holding on to a slim six-seat majority in the House of Representatives, eight-term incumbent Connie Morella has become one of the Democrats' prime targets this year, making her bid to keep her seat in an evolving district one of the year's most heated political battles.
Morella, a constituency-oriented representative with one of the most liberal voting records of any Republican in the House, is facing a challenge by Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a 12-year-veteran of the Maryland General Assembly.
They square off in a district that has changed over the years as more immigrants have found homes in the historically white and wealthy, but politically liberal and independent, D.C. suburb. More dramatically, the Maryland Assembly last year radically altered the district, removing some of the more conservative northern parts of Montgomery County and adding the liberal enclaves of Takoma Park and Silver Spring.
Morella called the redistricting process "tyrannous" and "an insult to the people." The Republicans plan to make redistricting -- and the role Van Hollen played in it -- a major campaign issue.
On policy issues, the candidates are fairly similar. Both have widespread support from environmental, anti-gun, women's and children's advocacy groups, and both will be vying for endorsements in the run up to November.
Where they differ most dramatically is at the bank. To win a hard-fought primary - eeking a victory by just 2,400 votes -- Van Hollen spent over $1 million and now has about $100,000 in his campaign war chest. By comparison, Morella has nearly $1.7 million.
However, as the national parties focus their attention on Maryland Eight, the money situation may soon change.
Some of the same labor unions Van Hollen once accused of backing his primary opponent Mark Shriver because of their relationship with Shriver's uncle, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), are now promising to deliver checks to the Van Hollen campaign.
Moreover, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is making plans to introduce Van Hollen to its large donors. Prominent Democrats like Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), Minority House Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) have all called to offer congratulations and support. Former opponent Shriver has pledged to work with Van Hollen's team, as has Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Shriver's cousin and the Democratic nominee for governor.
Meanwhile, Morella continues to reap the financial and political support of the well-funded Republican National Party, GOP Congressional leaders and President Bush. At a recent rally, Morella gave away a ticket for lunch with First Lady Laura Bush.
However Morella's ties to the administration may become more of a liability in a region that voted for Al Gore by the largest percentage of any district represented by a Republican. And despite her liberal voting record, Morella will have to fight the Democratic message that she is a luxury the progressive district no longer can afford.