WASHINGTON – With one year until Election Day 1998, Republicans are struggling to find someone to challenge veteran Rep. Steny Hoyer.
“I’m hoping there’s somebody on the horizon,” said Lawrence Hogan Jr. of Bowie, who lost to Hoyer in 1992. “People have asked me for suggestions, and I don’t know of anybody.”
Republican leaders said they have one or two people in mind for the role, but declined to identify the potential candidates.
Several Republican politicians from critical Prince George’s County have already declined the offer.
The GOP wants a candidate from Prince George’s County since it contains nearly half of the district’s voters. The rest of the 5th Congressional District, which is more conservative, is likely to be competitive no matter who runs, party officials said.
“It would be harder for someone from St. Mary’s County to come into Prince George’s, because there is some kind of disconnection there,” said Prince George’s Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele.
But there are few Republicans in the overwhelmingly Democratic county with substantial name recognition.
Until he moved to Howard County earlier this year, state Del. John Morgan, who lost to Hoyer in 1996, was the only Republican state legislator from Prince George’s. Audrey Scott of Bowie is the only Republican on the County Council.
Both have decided to concentrate on retaining their current jobs next year.
“It’s very, very flattering, and obviously it’s tempting, but … I love what I’m doing and find it very, very challenging,” Scott said.
Hogan, the son of former Rep. Lawrence Hogan, R-Md., provided Hoyer with his strongest challenge – losing to him by 6 percent in 1992. But Hogan said he declined repeated offers to run again, citing personal difficulties and the time-consuming nature of fund-raising.
Steele said he is in regular contact with a potential candidate who is yet to decide whether to enter the race, but refused to name the person.
Democratic Party officials said they are unaware of any likely opponents for their candidate.
“We’ve had feelers out everywhere,” said Prince George’s County Democratic Party Chairwoman Sheila Jackson. “We don’t think anyone would have a chance at beating him, but we’re interested in knowing who the competition is.”
If a candidate does not surface soon, it will be even more difficult than usual to raise the money needed to have a chance against an incumbent congressman.
“Anyone who pops up after November or December is out to lunch, because they’re not going to have time to put together the organization,” Steele said.
Whoever decides to run must have access to plenty of money. Hoyer, who is a favorite of labor unions, already has $320,547 in his campaign account, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Morgan ran a spirited campaign in 1996, regularly blasting what he called Hoyer’s liberal voting record. But Hoyer out-spent his opponent almost 5-1, and the national Republican Party provided Morgan with little financial help.
“The power of the incumbency is almost insurmountable,” Scott said. “It’s not whether or not you have a credible candidate running. It’s the ability to get over the incumbency threshold, and add to that the enormous amount of money that Hoyer has. It creates an impossible situation.”
But Hoyer and other Democrats said voter approval of the congressman’s record – not his bank account – is responsible for his longevity.
“Possible opponents may be thinking they have something better to do with their time than some kind of Don Quixote effort,” Hoyer said.
The St. Mary’s County Democrat won 57 percent of the vote against Morgan last year, 59 percent in 1994 against Reagan administration official Donald Devine and 53 percent against Hogan in 1992.
And registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 3- to-2 in the district, which includes all of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties and parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
Still, Steele said he remains confident that Hoyer’s nearly 15-year tenure in Congress may end soon.
“The voting registration numbers only give you a snapshot, but really they don’t tell you much,” Steele said. “They don’t tell you what people are thinking.”
Maryland Republican Party Executive Director Jim Burton said dissatisfaction with Gov. Parris Glendening, who is also up for re-election next year, will hurt all the state’s Democratic candidates.
“I’m not sure it’s going to be 1994, but I think it will be a good Republican year here in the state,” Burton said.