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Ruppersberger's Last-Minute Campaigning Fueled Surge in 2nd District Race

By Liz Boch
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2002

WASHINGTON - Dutch Ruppersberger's comfortable victory in a 2nd District race that was supposed to be a dead heat is being attributed to the Democrat's energetic blitz in the last few weeks -- and a lack of the same by Republican Helen Delich Bentley.

"I outworked her, and that makes a big difference," Ruppersberger said Wednesday. "I went to churches every Sunday. When people see you and people touch you, it works. It really made a difference."

Bentley campaign officials could not be reached for comment.

Ruppersberger beat Bentley 54 percent to 45 percent Tuesday, drawing heavily on Baltimore City and Baltimore County, where he is county executive, and edging her in Anne Arundel County.

Bentley beat Ruppersberger in Harford County by less than 1,000 votes.

Ruppersberger, 56, said though he never "made age an issue," he did "out-work" Bentley, 78, adding that reaching out to voters gave him the advantage.

Analysts agree that Bentley's age factored into the final vote -- and that Ruppersberger was wise to steer clear of the issue.

"Bentley appearing on her own commercials was a big mistake," said Frank DeFilippo, a political analyst for WBAL Radio. "The more visible she became, the more people said, 'Wow! Do we really want to send her to Congress at her age?' "

DeFilippo said one of her ads showed her walking along the White House lawn with President Bush, but she could "barely keep up" with the president.

"They [voters] took a good look at her and saw she was getting up there and they took that into account," DeFilippo said.

Richard Vatz, a professor of political rhetoric at Towson University, said Ruppersberger "was very, very, very smart not to raise the age issue," but to let voters make up their own minds.

"That takes away the defensive attitude people might have taken. People considered the age issue, but had he raised it, people would have said, 'How dare you say something like that?' " Vatz said.

The vote capped an election that polls showed was too close to call as recently as two weeks ago. Both parties had focused on the seat, which was abandoned by Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich, a Republican who held the seat for eight years.

Bentley, who held the seat previously, had raised more than $730,000 by Oct. 16 and spent over two-thirds of it, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Ruppersberger raised more than $1 million and had spent more than 54 percent in the same period.

But Bentley was not inactive in the last weeks of the campaign: She raised more than $150,000 in the last two weeks, to Ruppersberger's $105,000.

Ruppersberger said his record as a "moderate, pro-business Democrat" secured his win in a district that included conservative parts of Anne Arundel and Harford counties, two areas that favored Bentley.

"I've always been able to go against the tide because of that" record, he said, noting that he won despite Ehrlich's strong showing in Baltimore County. Ehrlich beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by more than 61,000 votes in the county.

Vatz argued that another factor may have been the negative ads by the Bentley campaign, which may have backfired and cost Bentley votes.

"I for one was really put off by a couple of Bentley's ads," Vatz said. "When I saw the ad putting a clown's hat on Dutch, even though I disagree with him, I didn't appreciate it.

"It's just not OK with me," he said. "Ruppersberger's ads were negative, but he didn't try to humiliate her."

But Ruppersberger said his record ultimately secured him the seat, adding that being a junior congressman will be an adjustment from "running the show" as Baltimore County executive.

"I'm not bragging, but I think people knew my record," Ruppersberger said. "We were on the message. I'm looking forward to the challenge, and I enjoy challenges. It's going to be a big transition for me."


Copyright 2002 University of Maryland College of Journalism

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