KENSINGTON – State Sen. Chris Van Hollen Jr. on Wednesday became the first Democrat to formally express interest in a 2002 bid for the Montgomery County seat held by popular eight-term Republican Rep. Connie Morella.
With almost 20 months to the election, Van Hollen, D-Montgomery County, announced the formation of an exploratory committee to begin building support for a possible run against Morella, who some see as vulnerable after her smaller-than-normal margin of victory in 2000.
“This election’s not about whether you like or don’t like Connie Morella,” Van Hollen said Wednesday in the basement of Kensington Town Hall. “It’s about the future direction of Congress and the future direction of this country.”
Democrat Terry Lierman made a similar pitch in his unsuccessful 2000 race against Morella, in which he spent $2 million only to lose by a 52-46 percent margin. Even though Lierman lost, however, it was a close race for Morella, who had not received less than 60 percent of the vote in more than a decade.
“Terry Lierman found the key to the door,” said Blair Lee IV, a political columnist for the Montgomery Journal. “He showed that Connie can be beaten.”
Potential challengers are further heartened by the fact that the Democrat- controlled State House will redraw Morella’s 8th District before the next election. State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, said he is confident that the redistricting will put more Democrats into the 8th District.
“The county’s already for the things that Chris stands for,” said Miller, who was on hand for Van Hollen’s announcement. “The district is already a very progressive district.”
That attitude toward redistricting brought a sharp response Wednesday from the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
“They are redistricting with the sole purpose of electing a Democrat,” said the GOP’s Paul Ellington. “We want to put the people first not the politics.”
But Van Hollen cited a redrawn district as one of the advantages he expects to enjoy against Morella, in addition to his “proven record” and the expectation that voters will be more inclined to elect a Democrat-controlled Congress to counter the Republican president.
“Now we don’t have a Democratic president to veto the bad things that come out of the Republican Congress,” Van Hollen said.
At least one other Democrat, Delegate Mark K. Shriver, D-Montgomery, is being mentioned as a potential challenger to Morella, but he has said he will delay any formal announcement of his plans until after the end of the legislative session in April.
“From my perspective I’m going to continue to work for working families and children in Montgomery County,” Shriver said Wednesday.
A spokesman for Morella said it was simply too early to be thinking about “an election that’s two years away” and would not comment much further.
“Connie is focusing her efforts on representing her district as she was elected to do,” said Jonathan Dean, Morella’s press secretary.