WASHINGTON – When Constitution Party congressional nominee Brian D. Saunders sparred against his two 8th District opponents at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, he held his own.
When incumbent Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, and Democratic challenger Terry Lierman gave the large crowd their positions on issues such as health care and the death penalty, Saunders countered confidently with his own.
But when it came to getting attention from the media, Saunders was on his own.
While a TV reporter fervently sought out Morella and Lierman for comments, Saunders stood quietly waiting for his turn. It never came. The debate started almost immediately after Lierman finished his interview.
Saunders — the only third-party congressional candidate to win a spot on the ballot this year in Maryland — has spent much of his campaign fighting to overcome the third-party label and to be accepted by voters and the media as a viable candidate. In one of the most closely watched races in the state, Saunders has been the man few people have watched.
Saunders does not want people to discount him just because he is a third- party candidate. During an interview in a Washington coffee shop, he implored voters to look at his web site. If his views are akin to theirs, he said, then they should consider voting for him.
“Give me a fair shake. Look at my views,” said Saunders.
He believes that government isn’t the solution to problems — people are. They are the ones who solve the problems, he said, adding that the more we let the government solve our problems, the more problems we seem to get.
“Empower people, not government,” Saunders said.
Those views seem tame in comparison to the platform of the party that nominated him.
The Constitution Party believes in keeping one of the nation’s oldest documents — the Constitution — untouched, said Steve Krukar, state chairman for the Maryland Constitution Party. For the Constitution Party, that means abolishing the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, revoking the “unconstitutional control” of banking by the Federal Reserve and doing away with welfare, among other provisions.
The party, according to its web site, believes that the foundation of its political position “and moving principle of our political activity is our full submission and unshakable faith in our Savior and Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Krukar said the party chose Saunders as its nominee in the 8th District because he concurred with 95 to 97 percent of the party’s views and he showed an interest in running for office.
Saunders, who said he voted for Morella 10 years ago, said he chose to run against her because her views have changed in that time and they are no longer representative of his own.
“All good things must come to an end,” Saunders said of Morella’s term.
Saunders started running for office almost two years ago, with an Internet site that he created to push his candidacy for president. Saunders said he only used the high-technology avenue of the web as a way to get his views out to the public.
He eventually abandoned his bid for president and, late last year, turned his focus to a more feasible race for Congress. He began looking for a political party to make his candidacy more realistic by nominating him, and eventually found the Constitution Party.
It took Saunders and his newfound party until August to collect enough signatures to get his name on the ballot. He has been campaigning daily since then, while continuing to hold his night job as an electronic technician at Hughes Network Systems.
Saunders has raised just over $13,000 for his campaign, compared to $1.9 million for Lierman and $850,000 for Morella. But Saunders takes pride in the fact that all of the money for his campaign has come from individual supporters, not from special interest groups.
Despite the disparity in campaign financing, Saunders and the Maryland Constitution Party believe that he will get a double-digit percentage of the vote on Election Day. Saunders predicted he would get at least 20 percent of the vote.
“We believe Brian will poll double-digits,” said Krukar, who said Saunders is only the fourth third-party candidate to make the ballot in Montgomery County in the last 75 years.
Krukar said the party expects Morella and Lierman to split 65 percent of the vote, leaving 35 percent to go to Saunders.
Campaign aides to both Lierman and Morella would not comment on Saunders’ predictions. Lierman campaign manager Derek Walker did credit Saunders for running “an active campaign.”
Allan J. Lichtman, an expert on presidential and congressional campaigns at American University, said that for Saunders it “is going to be difficult to get double-digits.”
But that should not discourage Saunders or other third-party candidates from pushing forward, Lichtman said, adding that these candidates bring new ideas to elections.
If he wins, Saunders said one of his first orders of business will be to form relationships with other members of Congress to help move legislation he proposes.
If he doesn’t win, Saunders said he would spend the next few months eating pizza and dancing with his wife Linda, who has served as treasurer for his campaign.
And then he will start his campaigning again, vowing to make another bid for Congress — whether as incumbent or challenger — in 2002.