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  •   GOP Senate Foes Trade Shots

    By Charles Babington
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, September 8, 1994; Page D06

    Maryland's sleepy U.S. Senate race snapped to life yesterday as the two leading Republican candidates accused each other of lying and traded stony stares in a bit of bizarre political theater in downtown Rockville.

    The event marked a change in strategy by William E. Brock III, who previously has ignored steady attacks by his main rival, Potomac developer Ruthann Aron. A recent statewide poll showed Aron in a virtual dead heat with Brock in Tuesday's GOP primary, although Del. C. Ronald Franks is within striking distance.

    Insisting he'll no longer be a punching bag, Brock called a Rockville news conference to denounce Aron's "character assassination." Aron lived up to her take-no-prisoners reputation, showing up with an entourage of supporters and renewing her verbal assaults as soon as Brock left the microphones.

    Brock, a former U.S. senator from Tennessee who has outdistanced his rivals in fund-raising, took the first swing. "This campaign has taken a very negative and ugly turn," he told reporters as Aron stood six feet away. He said Aron asserted last week that Brock opposed congressional term limits when she knew that he had endorsed such limits.

    "They continued to lie, to put out the story that I did not {support limits}," Brock said.

    He also attacked Aron's allegations that he voted for a congressional pay raise while in the Senate in the 1970s. "I voted eight times to cut or reduce or eliminate congressional pay," Brock said. "To have somebody say that I was fighting for congressional pay increases is an outrageous and dishonest distortion of the record."

    Brock conceded, however, that he voted for the pay raise "after we won the fight to cut back the increase."

    Aron, whose radio ads portray Tennessee hillbillies ridiculing Brock's record, immediately launched her own broadside. "When you lie to the people of Maryland, you show contempt for the entire state," she said. "I've been talking about issues since this campaign began."

    Aron said Brock has lied because "he has voted to raise taxes and says he hasn't. ... Bill Brock is a stranger to the truth." She said that last week's assertion that Brock opposed congressional term limits was "a slip of the tongue on my part" and that she had meant to allude to a tax pledge.

    The afternoon's tone was set by former U.S. representative Marjorie Holt, who said Brock "is such a man of integrity that he ... hasn't mentioned anything about the aura of fraud and breach of contract that constantly surrounds the other candidate."

    Brock warmed to the task, however, after Aron attacked him at his news conference. "She has been convicted by jury of fraud, more than once," he told reporters, who bounced between the two candidates like pinballs.

    Juries ruled against Aron in two civil lawsuits in which former business partners accused her of fraud or other offenses. A federal judge overturned one of the verdicts, and Aron settled both suits out of court after agreeing to pay about $175,000 in each case.

    For all the day's bombast, the oddest moment came at the beginning, when Aron and a dozen sign-wielding supporters faced a knot of Brock supporters. As reporters and photographers soaked up the awkward silence, the two camps stared mutely, and the whirring of cameras was all that was heard.

    © Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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