WASHINGTON – It doesn’t take a secret formula to unseat Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, a well-liked and personable candidate in Maryland’s 8th District with no apparent vices.
What a challenger does need, according to some of the eight Democrats who have run against Morella, is the willingness to persevere through more than one election and a continuous infusion of cash.
So far, none of them has been up to a repeat.
“When you’re taking on someone who’s an entrenched incumbent, you have to be willing to make a sustained effort,” said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, and a failed 1998 challenger.
That means pounding the pavement to gain confidence from the media as well as constituents, said Neas.
Once a candidate has made the decision to run, he must next find a way to sweet-talk money out of hard-to-persuade sources. But most political action committees hesitate to give money to challengers said Don Mooers, an attorney in Friendship Heights, who lost to Morella in 1996.
He said PACs will ask the challenger “What’s the return on my investment?” and seek what they consider a safer investment – the incumbent, who is re- elected in more than 90 percent of all House races.
Even though this year’s Democratic nominee, Terry Lierman, was able to bring in $1.9 million for his campaign, a large portion of that money came from his own pocket.
The lack of time and money that is needed to run a successful challenge kept Mooers and Neas from mounting the second effort that they said is critical to ousting Morella.
Mooers said there were few resources for him to continue a campaign and support his growing family. Neas was in the middle of preparing to run for this year’s race when his daughter arrived in September 1999. He weighed the pros and cons and chose to spend his time with his new family rather than on the campaign trail.
Even if a candidate makes the leap, gains the confidence in the community and wins some dough, he faces, in Morella, a moderate Republican who, one political observer said, avoids political risks.
“She votes Democratic on the most critical issues of the day,” said Steve VanGrack, an attorney in Rockville who ran for the 8th District seat in 1994. Morella, for example, defied most of her Republican colleagues and voted against impeaching President Clinton in 1998.
There is yet another stumbling block: While Morella is a familiar face in Montgomery County, the Democrats continue to nominate a different person with a decidedly less-familiar face every time.
Many of the former challengers and some political experts agreed that Lierman made a difference with this campaign.
“He deserves tremendous credit for running an excellent campaign,” said Allan J. Lichtman, an expert on presidential and congressional campaigns at American University.
“I’m hoping in 2002 we’re going to see him complete the job,” said Mooers.
“Lierman has the message and the money,” said Blair Lee IV, a Maryland political writer. The future will tell whether Lierman is the man to do it, he added.
Officials with Lierman’s campaign were cautious about making any immediate decisions for 2002.
“It’s too early to know what’s going to happen,” said Derek Walker, Lierman’s campaign manager. “We’re not ruling it out.”
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