Van Hollen tops Shriver; next is match with Morella
Sep. 11, 2002
Steven T. Dennis
Staff Writer

Christopher Van Hollen Jr. triumphed over Mark K. Shriver on Tuesday in the hotly contested 8th Congressional District Democratic primary, defeating the Kennedy family scion and setting up a nationally significant general election battle with popular eight-term incumbent Republican Constance A. Morella.

Shriver had not conceded at press time Wednesday morning.

State Sen. Van Hollen was beating Del. Shriver by 2,238 votes with 98 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.

Van Hollen led Shriver by 34,759 votes to 29,976 votes with 165 of the 168 Montgomery County precincts reporting, overcoming Shriver's big lead in Prince George's County -- 3,027 votes to 482 with all 10 precincts counted.

Overall, Van Hollen led 35,241 to 33,003.

Former trade ambassador Ira S. Shapiro had 9,228 votes total and lawyer Deborah A. Vollmer 1,799. Anthony Jaworski, who was on the ballot but has not appeared at any public events, was bringing up the rear with 557 votes.

Elections officials said about 4,500 voters in all of Montgomery County, not just District 8, requested absentee ballots; the ballots that were returned will be counted Thursday.

Speaking minutes before midnight, Shriver thanked his supporters and told him that he was "cautiously optimistic. It looks good," he said. Shortly after he spoke, results were posted that expanded Van Hollen's lead from 21 votes to more than 2,000. His campaign officials were denying that he was losing when reached shortly after midnight.

The late reporting of the results as elections officials struggled with a new computerized system had politicians pacing all over the county.

"Well, I tell you, I feel like I'm an expectant father, pacing back and forth," Morella said Tuesday night as the results continued to trickle in. "And I can imagine how the candidates feel."

Julie Philp, Connie's scheduler, then quipped, "Was it a Shriver or was it a Van Hollen?"

Shriver (D-Dist. 15) of Bethesda had billed himself as a fighter for families with the deep pockets needed to take on Morella. He raised more than $2 million, about twice what Van Hollen raised and three times Shapiro's take.

He launched a barrage of television ads three weeks before the primary, spending $650,000 in the final week of the campaign alone. But Shriver had to fight the notion that his successes came in large part because of his lineage, and that his legislative record did not match up to Van Hollen's.

Van Hollen (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington had touted his record of hard-fought victories in Annapolis on education funding, the environment, gun control and other issues. He also had billed himself as the only candidate with both state and federal experience; he is a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer who traveled to Iraq to report on its use of chemical weapons against Kurds in 1988.

Van Hollen's campaign was buoyed in recent weeks as he swept all of the major newspaper endorsements, including The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, The Gazette and The Montgomery Journal.

Van Hollen said he was confident that he could overcome Shriver's advantages in fame and fortune.

The Democrats will face a tough challenge in pulling together to take on Morella. The district is pivotal to the national struggle between Democrats and Republicans over control of the House of Representatives, and Morella has been a proven crossover candidate.

While all of the Democrats pledged to endorse the primary's winner, many of their supporters have spent the past two years disparaging their opponents and now must swiftly change gears with just eight weeks until the Nov. 5 general election.

Polls have Morella beating all of the Democrats soundly, despite Gov. Parris N. Glendening's attempts to redraw the district to make it more friendly to Democrats.

The three top Democrats raised nearly $4 million, spending more than $1 million in the final week alone in the most expensive political race in Montgomery County history and one of the most expensive in the nation.

In the final weeks of the campaign, a Gazette/Baltimore Sun poll found that the race largely had come down to Shriver and Van Hollen. The two men traded criticisms of each other's records and each accused the other of negative campaigning.

As a scion of the Kennedy family, Shriver had been considered the Democratic front-runner, with luminaries such as brother-in-law Arnold Schwarzenneger among his supporters. Parents Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver campaigned for their son, as did his uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Van Hollen, meanwhile, repeatedly implied that Shriver merely voted the right way in Annapolis, contrasting that to his own leadership in hard-fought victories.

He sought to capitalize on his victory this spring in securing an extra $80 million a year for Montgomery County schools and pointed out that Shriver initially opposed the deal. Shriver countered that the entire House delegation also had opposed the deal, and that he ultimately helped push it through the House.

Van Hollen also told voters that Shriver had never passed a health care bill in his eight years in Annapolis. But Shriver noted that he has co-sponsored legislation and accused Van Hollen of distorting his record.

"It's been painful," Shriver said in a radio debate last week.

Shapiro, meanwhile, accused the other two men of fighting each other and ran a television ad that mocked their attacks as two children boxing.

But Shapiro did not keep above the fray. He attacked them for spending thousands from their state campaign accounts to promote themselves, and called the pair "part of the problem" on traffic because neither had called for building the proposed Intercounty Connector highway before running for Congress. But Shapiro's fund-raising lagged, and he had to build up a grassroots base whereas the others had established support from their previous elections.

Vollmer, meanwhile, raised little money and had little evidence of support. Even her campaign signs were recycled. She called for universal publicly financed health care and campaign finance reform and was the only candidate to oppose war with Iraq. She also was the only candidate opposed to building the ICC and an aboveground light rail from Silver Spring to Bethesda.