Democrats Torn over Republican Morella S Candidacy; with Congress Up for Grabs, Party Label Becomes Important in race.(METROPOLITAN)
Byline: Jabeen Bhatti, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella stops by the Montgomery County Metro station for one more campaign appearance in months packed with them. She stands alone in the frigid night, looking fresh and optimistic, shaking hands and chatting with constituents like they re neighbors.
[thorn]It s nice to see you, Connie, surprised commuters say, bounding out of the station. [thorn]Keep up the good work. Good luck. We support you.
Among the well-wishers, some commuters approach with rueful smiles. [thorn]I m so torn, one says gently to her, the Republican incumbent. Another takes her to task for negative campaign ads. Still another tells the her that, despite her personal regard for Mrs. Morella, this time she must vote for a Democrat.
This is Connie Country and has been for 16 years. But that was before fissures appeared in her support base - the wealthy, hyper-educated and liberal voters she represents - and has done so often at the expense of chafing the conservative elements of her party.
Sometimes, when voters tell her they can t support her anymore, she becomes quietly incensed, a little hurt. She has spent years answering her constituents calls and questions and requests for help. She votes against her party when she knows her constituents would want her to do so: on gun control, abortion and, more recently, against giving President Bush authority to wage war against Iraq. She has made a career of proclaiming her independence. What more do they want? she asks.
But the sunny spirit that has made her, a 71-year-old Italian grandmother, so personally popular and gets her labeled as [thorn]nice Connie reasserts itself easily.
[thorn]It s exciting, she says of the close race that puts her in a dead heat with state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen. [thorn]The momentum is there. Hey, I m the comeback kid.
She realizes that, this time, she could lose. Her opponent s promise to vote for a Democratic House speaker seems to be resonating among voters in the 8th Congressional District, which lost Republicans and gained Democrats after redistricting this year.
Political observers say there is little chance of Democrats taking back the House; they would need to win all 16 seats nationwide that were rated as tossups last week by Washington analyst Charlie Cook. But Mrs. Morella knows that some voters don t hear that argument.
[thorn]People are beginning to realize that Congress isn t going to change, she said. [thorn]A vote for my opponent on that reasoning is a wasted vote. I can serve them better. But people hear those arguments over and over again, and become prisoners of their own conviction.
[thorn]In the end, you reach a point where you just have to say, iI m here, I ve done it all, and you just have to make a decision, she added.
Tomorrow, the nation will be watching this race becasue it is pivotal to continued Republican control of the House. In Montgomery County, that has become more critical to some voters than the personalities, records and convictions of the candidates.
[thorn]The bottom-line issues for many people is whether they want Dick Gephardt or Tom Delay as leader, said Ira Sockowitz, 41, of Chevy Chase who is supporting Mr. Van Hollen. [thorn]A lot of people don t want unchecked power in the White House, particularly in light of what is going on with the economy and the war on Iraq. Connie may reflect the county s morals, but there is a bigger issue at hand now: control of the legislature and a divided government. …