WASHINGTON – They don’t call it a war chest for nothing. Paul Rappaport’s donors are ready to do battle.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Clerk Robert Duckworth called himself part of a grass-roots army for Rappaport, ready to oust four-term Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D- Baltimore.
“His opponent would certainly be a good senator for Massachusetts,” Duckworth said of Sarbanes. “But he doesn’t represent the views of Maryland.”
Rappaport agrees and pledged to “represent all the people” — the centerpiece of a campaign that attacks Sarbanes as out of touch.
“As a citizen, I can try to leave the state, keep taking it or say enough is enough,” the former Howard County police chief said.
Even at that, Rappaport did not want to throw his hat into the race at first. He was persuaded to run by a strong showing of support from his friends and grass-roots activists.
But political analysts say grass roots alone are not going to help Rappaport unseat Sarbanes, an unabashedly liberal Democrat in a Democratic state, whose $1.7 million in campaign funds is more than 15 times what his challenger has raised.
“I think that Sarbanes is unbeatable because he is a known commodity and he has all of the powers of incumbency,” said Griffin Hathaway, a Towson University political scientist.
The differences in their fund-raising is not the only thing that sets the two men apart. While Rappaport charges that his opponent “believes the only thing is government,” Sarbanes offers a defense of government that sounds like a throwback to classic Democratic ideals.
“I do think that government is an instrument to be used by the people to achieve their objectives,” Sarbanes said. “Otherwise they are going to be left at the mercy of. . .very large interests.”
“I don’t know why he (Rappaport) is engaged in the activity of trashing. . .government employees,” Sarbanes said. “We. . .work very hard to try and serve the people who elect us.”
Sarbanes was born on the Eastern Shore, where he worked in his parent’s restaurant. He earned a scholarship to Princeton and a law degree from Harvard. A Rhodes Scholar, he practiced law in Baltimore before being elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1966.
He was elected to Congress in 1970 and to the Senate in 1976. He serves on the Senate’s budget and foreign relations committees and is ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. He is dean of the Maryland congressional delegation and serves on the Joint Economic Committee.
Despite his longevity, he rarely attracts headlines — leading opponents to dub him the “stealth senator.” Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said “the majority of Marylanders couldn’t pick Sarbanes out of a line-up.”
But Sarbanes’ supporters said his low profile is simply a matter of style.
“He just has a very quiet demeanor,” said Ilene Kessler, a long-time supporter and Columbia real estate agent. But she said his reserve should not suggest Sarbanes is not a capable legislator.
“Sarbanes does things quietly and effectively,” said Kessler, noting his work for affordable housing as evidence of his accomplishments.
“We think he is wonderful,” said Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action. “He is a very intelligent, very hard working member of the Senate who at no time showboats.”
Sarbanes’ record gets favorable ratings from labor organizations, earning a perfect score from both the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Government Employees for his 1999 votes.
“He has helped working men and women,” said Mary Murphy, chair of the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee. “He has done a fantastic job and I don’t see any reason why he should not be re-elected.”
Many in the business community see plenty of reasons.
“Sarbanes’ voting record is consistently an F for business. . .and I hope the voters take these records into account,” said Chris Wysocki, president of the Small Business Survival Committee. “Maryland consistently is one the worst states for entrepreneurship and Sarbanes exemplifies that.”
Robert Worcester, president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said that Sarbanes got a composite score of 12 percent from business and manufacturing groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Mr. Rappaport does not have a record, but we know that from the positions he is taking on a variety of business issues that he should be considered business-friendly,” said Worcester. “Anyone interested in the private sector health of Maryland should be very disappointed (in Sarbanes).”
But the senator’s supporters defend his business record, which they see as part of a total legislative package.
“I think the most important things for Maryland business are, No. 1, good schools and, No. 2, a good transportation network,” said George Leventhal, chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee. “Sen. Sarbanes has been deeply involved in getting education funds. . .and laying the groundwork for the transportation system.”
But others say Sarbanes is just too liberal. Ian Walters, a spokesman for the American Conservative Union, called Sarbanes’ record “about as liberal as it gets.” His group gives the senator a 5 percent lifetime rating.
Lloyd Hinton, a retired Navy officer from Easton who contributed to Rappaport’s campaign, said it is time for Sarbanes to go.
“Paul Sarbanes has supported everything that Clinton does,” Hinton said. “We just got to get rid of him.”
Sarbanes’ detractors are pinning their hopes on Rappaport, a former Howard County police chief whose only bids for public office were an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1994 and a failed campaign for attorney general in 1998.
Like Sarbanes, he worked in his parent’s restaurant, a Jessup business that was frequented by Maryland State troopers. It was there that Rappaport realized that he wanted to be a police officer.
He served in the Maryland State Police from 1951 to 1979, with a brief stint in the Army from 1957-59. He left the state police in 1979 to become Howard County chief of police, serving until 1987. He took night classes to earn a college degree and later earned a law degree. He currently practices law and owns a storage company.
“He (Sarbanes) doesn’t know how we live anymore,” said Rappaport. “He believes the only thing is government. He doesn’t believe in the people.”
Patrick Dornan, who co-chaired the Howard County Taxpayers Association with Rappaport, said the aspiring senator’s personality makes him right for the job.
“Paul (Rappaport) has more honesty and integrity than anyone I know,” said Dornan, who added that Rappaport was a good influence on those around him and he even “was able to moderate me.”
Rappaport is not a pure partisan. While he supports GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush’s plan to set aside part of Social Security funds for private investment, he would also put some of it in the “lockbox” that Democratic Vice President Al Gore’s has proposed.
But he is otherwise mostly Republican, rejecting proposals for more gun- control laws, calling for a strong defense, favoring school vouchers and urging a return to smaller government and greater local control of services.
It has been difficult for him to get the word out against a well-financed incumbent, however. Rappaport said he is “raising funds every day,” but because of the fund-raising disparity with Sarbanes, he can only afford advertising for a limited amount of time.
“What it means is that we have to do everything in two weeks rather than two months,” he said. “It is difficult to fight against $1.5 million and it is difficult to fight against Sarbanes’. . .ads.”
Interviews with Sarbanes’ donors found many unaware of Rappaport and his positions.
“I don’t even know who the Republican is,” said Robert Fischell, a donor from Dayton, Md.
“I don’t know much about Mr. Rappaport,” said Larry Kamanitz, of Baltimore. “I haven’t really bothered to research his record.”
Hathaway, of Towson State, said Rappaport is in the same situation as many challengers in the state.
“It becomes a catch-22 (for challengers) in which nobody thinks you can win so you can’t get any money, and you can’t get any money so you can’t win,” said Hathaway.
Rappaport’s supposed grass-roots army will have to find a way to translate its disappointment into voter mobilization if the campaign is to succeed.
“There is a lot of apathy out there which bothers me personally,” said Arthur Nattans, a Rappaport supporter from Towson. “A lot of people are satisfied with the status quo.”
Most Rappaport supporters acknowledge the uphill battle, but said they are not ready to give up the fight.
“This race is going to be a lot closer than people think,” said Duckworth. “I am real bullish on Paul Rappaport and very bearish on Paul Sarbanes.”