BETHESDA – Democrat Terry Lierman’s campaign “has picked up a ton of momentum” as the race winds down, said aides, who pointed to headline-grabbing ads on public radio and a report that the 8th District is no longer a safe Republican seat.
But incumbent Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, said Wednesday she was “appalled” by Lierman’s use of public airwaves to push his campaign message, while aides brushed aside the Congressional Quarterly’s new report on the race.
Morella campaign manager P.J. Hogan accused the Lierman camp of resorting to “desperation measures” in a hard-to-win campaign.
But Lora Bodmer, deputy campaign manager for Lierman’s campaign, made no apologies for the radio ads that started running Monday on WAMU, using a little- known federal law that requires noncommercial stations to provide federal candidates “reasonable access” at no charge.
Bodmer said the campaign has to be creative in order to unseat a Republican, and that the radio ad reflected its energetic and aggressive approach, which is reaching voters across the state.
“This campaign has picked up a ton of momentum,” she said.
While WAMU officials said that many listeners called to complain about ads on their commercial-free station, Bodmer said the campaign had received several messages of support.
When asked if the ads would continue, Bodmer would only say that the agreement with WAMU was for two weeks worth of ads and that it is “a legal, ethical way to communicate to voters.”
But Morella predicted that the use of free airtime by “multimillionaire” Lierman, would backfire on him. Morella said that not only will she not run such ads, she will look into changing the law, which she believes was meant to provide a forum for those who cannot afford private airtime.
“I am appalled that a candidate can do this covert planning,” said Morella, noting that Lierman’s campaign had been planning the ads since the summer.
The radio flap came as the Congressional Quarterly changed the rating Tuesday for the 8th District from a safe Republican seat to favored Republican seat. But that does not mean Morella’s reign is threatened, said a CQ reporter.
“Morella remains a very strong favorite,” said Sandra Basu. She said Lierman probably has a shot at winning, but a long shot at best.
Basu said CQ gave the same rating to the district in 1998, a race Morella won by a comfortable margin. She said CQ uses several factors to decide the rankings, including individual reporting and a district’s demographics.
Hogan seemed unfazed by the new ranking. “I think anybody would be happy to be considered favorable,” he said.
The third candidate in the race, meanwhile, said he would likely follow Lierman’s lead and ask for public airtime.
Constitution Party nominee Brian Saunders will put something together and send it to WAMU as soon as possible, said his campaign treasurer. Linda Easton- Saunders welcomed Lierman’s move, saying it is “giving us the opportunity to know about” the little-used reasonable access law.
Saunders’ campaign officials said the next step will be to ask for time from Maryland Public Television — which recently excluded Saunders from a televised debate with Morella and Lierman.