8th District Race Draws to Costly Close
|State Sen. Christopher Van Hollen (second
shakes hands on election day with a voter at Silver Spring's Leisure World. (Photo by Reginald
Hart / Maryland Newsline)
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 6, 2002
WASHINGTON - A newspaper endorsement might not be the deciding factor in a
typical congressional race, but the "fabulous, neck-and-neck" 8th District
Democratic primary is anything but typical.
So when state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen found out late Wednesday that he
had been endorsed by The Washington Post, his campaign printed 5,000 fliers
that volunteers were handing out by 6 a.m. Thursday at every Metro stop in
American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman calls the
endorsement a possible trump card in an unpredictable, nationally watched
race, which could hinge on voter turnout and the undecided vote.
"We're in for an absolutely fabulous, neck-and-neck race that may well come
down to which candidate is better able to get their supporters to the
polls," Lichtman said.
Van Hollen and Delegate Mark Shriver top a crowded Democratic field that
is jockeying for a chance to unseat longtime Rep. Connie Morella,
R-Bethesda, in a district that was made much more heavily Democratic in
The race has drawn national attention because of the possibility that
Democrats could gain one of the handful of seats they need to take over
control of the House. That has brought record-breaking amounts of money to
the race: Shriver has raised more than $2.5 million, Van Hollen has more
than $1.4 million and Ira Shapiro has brought in about $800,000.
In the last week of the primary campaign alone, Shriver and Van Hollen
expect to spend $650,000 each.
Van Hollen, whose supporters consistently vote in the primaries, is
capitalizing on his Post endorsement with a series of ads. Shriver, who will
likely be helped by a high voter turnout, is pouring his resources into a
last- minute get-out-the-vote campaign.
That is particularly important for Shriver in Prince George's County
precincts that were added to the district this year: He has strong support
among African-American voters, who were almost twice as likely to be
undecided as other voters.
|State Delegate Mark Shriver (right)
converses with a voter at Silver Spring's Leisure World on election
day. Seated is Shriver's mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver,
sister of former President John F. Kennedy. (Photo by Reginald
Hart / Maryland Newsline)
A mid-August poll by Gonzales/Arscott Research & Communications found 31
percent of likely primary voters supported Shriver, 30 percent backed Van
Hollen and 14 percent were for Shapiro. Democrat Deborah Vollmer, who has
spent less than $4,000 on her campaign, had 4 percent. The poll had a margin
of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.
A different poll for The (Baltimore) Sun and the Gazette newspapers found
that one out of five likely voters were undecided heading into the last week
August. Those voters are the ones the Shapiro campaign is counting on, said
spokeswoman Sarah Rosen, who is banking on high voter turnout Tuesday.
"Candidates often pray for rain because they know supporters will come out
regardless," Rosen said. "We're not praying for rain."
She said Shapiro, who suspended his campaign this weekend to observe Rosh
Hashana, will embark on a "24-hour marathon" of campaigning, beginning
The campaign is praying that undecided voters who see Shapiro or his
campaign literature will be swayed by his national experience as a chief
trade negotiator and ambassador in the Clinton White House.
Susan Labin was a Shriver supporter until she saw Shapiro at a Tuesday
debate, where she was impressed by his experience and judgment.
"I want a candidate who can deal with high-level people on the critical
life-or-death issues that the nation faces," she said. "I feel more positive
about his electability now."
But beating Morella will take more than positive feelings. The moderate
Republican has repeatedly beaten back well-funded Democrats in the
Democratic-leaning district, and this year's primary has often focused on
which Democrat is best suited to unseat the eight-term incumbent.
Morella's challenger may ultimately be selected by just a handful of votes.
Out of 323,668 registered voters in the 8th District, just over half are
registered Democrats, and Lichtman said he expects a turnout of 80,000 at
the very most.
"We're just poised on the edge of a perfect race like the perfect storm,"
he said. "This one is too close to call."
2002 University of Maryland College of
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