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As 8th District Campaign Winds Down, Charges of Dirty Tricks Heat Up

By Samson Habte
Capital News Service
Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004

WASHINGTON - It must be that time of the year.

With fewer than five days to the election, the campaigns of 8th District Republican hopeful Chuck Floyd and Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen were hurling charges of dirty tricks at each other Thursday.

Floyd said he has pictures of, and a sworn statement from, a teen-age Van Hollen campaign volunteer who claims the incumbent's staff instructed him to destroy Floyd literature.

A Van Hollen aide said it is possible that the youth grabbed Floyd's literature, but flatly denied that anyone ordered him to do so -- and then responded with a catalog of alleged Floyd dirty tricks.

All of which seems to be "pretty typical stuff for the tail end of a campaign," said Frank Difilippo, a political analyst for WBAL.

The brouhaha began last month when a group of Floyd volunteers canvassing a Rockville neighborhood noticed they were being shadowed by three people in "Congressman Chris Van Hollen" T-shirts.

Then they noticed Floyd for Congress "palm cards" -- literature they had just dropped on porches -- in their nemeses' palms. Through a car window, a Floyd staffer snapped a picture of a Van Hollen volunteer holding a blue, easily distinguishable Floyd palm card.

A license plate number was taken, police were called and a settlement was reached. Charges were dropped when one of the alleged pamphlet pocketers signed a notarized affidavit that read: "Managers in the Van Hollen campaign directed me and others to pull Floyd literature and destroy them."

The pictures and the scrawled, cursive admission were promptly posted on a Floyd campaign Web site.

"They coerced some scared kid into signing something that wasn't true," said Chuck Westover, Van Hollen's campaign manager.

Westover said any suggestion that the campaign's high command ordered the grabbing "is absolutely false."

He said Floyd's campaign is struggling and grasping for a headline.

"He (Floyd) is trying to boost his name recognition because nobody knows who he is," Westover said.

Westover then reeled off a litany of accusations against the Floyd campaign: stolen signs, lewd messages -- one involving strangling cats -- left on campaign answering machines and an incident in which Van Hollen's car was covered in Floyd bumper stickers and an empty liquor bottle placed on the hood.

Earlier this month, Floyd drew headlines when it was reported that his campaign had used Van Hollen's name to set up Web sites that posted attacks on the freshman legislator's record and character.

Floyd said at the time that the Web sites were set up because Van Hollen refused to debate him. He also accused the Van Hollen campaign of sending a 14-year-old volunteer to infiltrate his campaign and relay back canvassing information.

Officer Derek Baliles, a Montgomery County Police spokesman, said the department takes very seriously reports of sign stealing and pamphlet picking.

"It is a nuisance crime that puts a bad taste in people's mouth and lowers the quality of life in the county," said Baliles.

He could not find a report on the Floyd incident, but noted that reports of political sign stealing in the county are up over previous election years.

Westover, who joined Van Hollen's campaign in May, said the shenanigans are getting tiresome.

"Thank God there are only a few more days left in this race," he said.

Copyright 2004 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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