WASHINGTON – Kenneth T. Bosley has not updated his campaign web site since 1998. But not much has really changed since then.
He is running this fall for the same congressional seat — the 2nd District — against the same man who defeated him two years ago by a margin of 69-31 percent, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, R-Timonium.
But Bosley thinks things might work out better this time.
“I’ve found that in ’98 I only needed 19 percent more to beat Ehrlich. And, I’ve found that 19 percent to be more attainable,” said Bosley, a Democrat.
Others are not as optimistic.
Even though Democrats make up 54 percent of registered voters in the district, which includes all of Harford County and parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, they have not elected a Democrat to Congress since 1982. And, in Ehrlich, Bosley faces a well-funded rising star in the Maryland Republican Party who has made no major blunders that a challenger can latch on to.
Even leaders of Bosley’s own party concede that his campaign is a long shot.
“We have a slight edge in registration,” in the district, said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party. “But the folks we’re talking about are a lot more moderate to conservative in the Democratic perspective. And Ehrlich’s done a good job for the constituents.”
Bosley disagrees, saying Ehrlich has spent “six years in Congress and hasn’t done anything.” He accuses Ehrlich of being too focused on a potential bid for governor in 2002, and not focused enough on his congressional duties.
“He’s going around the state running for governor rather than working in Washington,” Bosley said.
Ehrlich defends his work for the district, pointing to his efforts to help Baltimore Marine Industries win a Navy contract to overhaul a floating dry dock used to repair submarines. The work would have remained in Norfolk, Va., but Ehrlich said his talks with the Navy helped convince them to bring the project to Sparrows Point.
On the national level, he said his “No.1 achievement” has been to help retire the public debt without touching Social Security.
Ehrlich was elected to Congress in 1994, after eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates. He has served on the Budget Committee, the Banking and Financial Services Committee and, this term, on the Commerce Committee.
In three terms, he has won high ratings from business lobby groups for his votes to cut taxes, among other issues. The National Federation of Independent Business gave his 1999/2000 voting record a 94 percent rating and made him one of three Maryland congressman to be named a “Guardian of Small Business.”
“We think Congressman Ehrlich is a fantastic representative for small businesses. He has consistently fought to lower taxes and has fought government bureaucracy that strangles small businesses,” said NFIB spokesman Matt Latimer.
But Ehrlich’s 1999 voting record got only a 30 percent rating from the National Education Association, which targeted him for “several votes that were important to us, like school construction, gun show background checks and opposition to school vouchers.”
“Those were important votes for us and Congressman Ehrlich did not support those measures,” said spokeswoman Becky Fleischauer.
Ehrlich and Bosley differ sharply on the issues likely to face the next Congress, like health care, Social Security and education.
Ehrlich said he agrees with GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush’s position on Social Security, which is to let people use a portion of their payroll taxes to set up private retirement accounts. Bosley, on the other hand, thinks the federal government should not loosen its control of Social Security.
“I definitely think Social Security should be managed by the government, not individuals, because as a person gets older money slips away from him,” Bosley said. “Many think they can manage their money, but it may be difficult as they get older.”
Both men said the military and foreign policy are important issues now, with Ehrlich calling military preparedness a “top-tier” issue in light of current events in the Middle East.
But Bosley claims his experience in military and foreign affairs outweighs Ehrlich’s. The Democrat spent 38 years in the Air Force and the Reserves — he could not recall how many years were spent in each — and said that with Reserve officer organizations, he traveled overseas and lobbied Congress for over 20 years on national security and foreign policy.
“I have quite a background as far as foreign affairs. I know the foreign affairs problems. Ehrlich has never been in the military,” Bosley said.
Bosley’s biggest concern, though, is with a state law, SB509, that would let Baltimore County condemn run-down properties and turn them over to developers. Bosley, who grew up on a Sparks dairy farm, said it will let developers unfairly take farms away from families to “build casinos or whatever else.”
Bosley joined thousands of others in signing a referendum to overturn the law, and he said he has done much of his campaigning at debates over SB509.
Ehrlich said he supports the referendum, but he laughed when he was told Bosley had made it a campaign issue. “It is not a federal issue,” and has nothing to do with Congress, he said.
Besides campaigning at SB 509 debates, Bosley has also made it to several bull roasts throughout the district. Ehrlich has been going door-to-door every Saturday since July, campaigning for both himself and Bush.
“I do believe meeting people face to face is the best way to campaign even in this technological age,” Ehrlich said.
His campaign manager, Paul Schurick, said Ehrlich is “campaigning harder today than I have ever seen him do in the past,” despite his 1998 victory over Bosley and a campaign war chest of $695,826 as of Sept. 30, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Bosley would not discuss his fund raising, but has not filed a campaign finance report with the FEC, which is required of candidates who raise more than $5,000.
“Money is no index of what a campaign is like,” Bosley said.
What Bosley lacks in money, he makes up for in name recognition in the district, said Delegate Jake Mohorovic, D-Baltimore County, who lost to Bosley in the Democratic congressional primary.
“What I’ve found in Harford County is that Ken Bosley has very good name recognition. He had a good base there and was successful over me,” said Mohorovic, a second-term state delegate.
Despite their political and campaigning differences, both candidates were described as hard workers and “straight shooters” by people who know them.
“Ken is a pretty straightforward guy,” said Capt. David Bolduck, president of the Maryland Reserve Officers Association, of which Bosley was formerly president. “He’s a hard worker. I’ve never had any problems with him.”
Ehrlich’s co-captain from the 1978 Princeton University football team said he is usually turned off by politicians, but he had only good things to say about his former classmate.
“There’s no BS about him,” said Greg Bauman. “I’m very apolitical. I don’t like politicians and I like Bobby as a politician. He’s a really sincere guy.”
The chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, on which Ehrlich sits, called him a “hard worker” who “really knows his stuff.”
“I’m a real fan of his,” said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La. “He’s always there and makes hearings more productive. I’m prejudiced because I consider him a close friend.”
Mohorovic said that Bosley’s name recognition could help him in the general election and that, if elected, Bosley does have experience to contribute. But that’s a big if, he said, considering the district’s conservative voting patterns.
“He’s been a businessman for many years. He’s been in the farming community. He’s got extensive background in the military,” Mohorovic said. “I know in the presidential debate Bush and Gore were talking about the state of the military. Bosley could bring a lot of input.
“But locally a majority of elected officials are Republicans, so that may not be a good sign,” he said. Towson State University political scientist Griff Hathaway is more certain than Mohorovic about the district’s future. Hathaway said he is pretty sure this congressional seat is the incumbent’s to keep. “It is a Democratic stronghold. But incumbency transcends party affiliation. And, we like Ehrlich,” he said.