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  •   5th District Rivals Have Clear Differences

    By Todd Shields
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, October 31, 1996; Page M01

    On his way to a recent debate, Del. John S. Morgan dashed down a cup of tea at a convenience store, then grabbed a 15-minute nap in his car to ward off campaign-induced exhaustion.

    On his way to the debate, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer ate dinner at a friend's house. He arrived relaxed and replenished for the campaign forum in Calvert County.

    Those circumstances reflect the contrast between the candidates in Maryland's 5th Congressional District. The race pits Hoyer, the Democrat, a well-financed and polished eight-term incumbent, against Morgan, an energetic young Republican running a shoestring campaign.

    Substantive differences also separate the two, as their barbed exchanges at the League of Women Voters debate showed.

    Hoyer, 57, a lawyer, quickly linked his opponent to the GOP's "Contract With America" and accused Morgan of distorting his record in Congress. Morgan, 32, an engineer, called Hoyer "an extreme pro-abortion candidate" and accused the incumbent of demagoguery.

    Both candidates agree that the election presents a clear choice to voters in the 5th, which includes eastern Prince George's County, part of southern Anne Arundel County and the three counties of Southern Maryland, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's.

    Ask Hoyer, and the choice before voters is whether to retain a pro-environment, pro-defense incumbent who protects federal installations and the jobs of the district's many federal workers. He calls himself a John Kennedy Democrat and his opponent a disciple of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

    Ask Morgan, and the choice is between a low-tax, pro-family conservative (himself) and a liberal career politician (Hoyer).

    Morgan, a two-term delegate from Laurel in the district's north, favors term limits and GOP presidential candidate Robert J. Dole's proposed 15 percent reduction in personal income tax rates. He is against gun control and abortion and backs a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning.

    Hoyer opposes term limits and derides Dole's tax cut as unrealistic. He is for gun control and a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion and opposes an amendment to ban flag-burning.

    The two have spent recent weeks trading charges in appearances and radio ads.

    For all the energetic rhetoric, though, the race could turn on money -- an area in which Hoyer has a decided advantage.

    Campaign finance reports filed in mid-October showed Hoyer with $658,129 in cash on hand, more than eight times Morgan's $76,728.

    That margin allows Hoyer to buy blocks of expensive television time on the Washington stations that penetrate his district. By late October, he was running ads touting his accomplishments on five broadcast stations as well as on Southern Maryland cable channels. Morgan's campaign was unsure whether it could afford television time.

    No independent polls exist to indicate whether the race is close. But Hoyer's funding and advertising advantages could have a bearing on the outcome, said University of Maryland political scientist Eric Uslaner, who follows state politics.

    "Even a good challenger finds it really tough to take on a well-entrenched incumbent," Uslaner said. "And Steny is out there, day after day, making sure that people remember who he is. . . . No challenger could hope to have the same name recognition."

    Republicans insist that Hoyer is vulnerable. They pin their hopes partly on Southern Maryland, a mainly rural area that is increasingly conservative and voted for the GOP candidate, Ellen R. Sauerbrey, in the gubernatorial election two years ago.

    In the same election, however, Hoyer won all three Southern Maryland counties. That reversed his losses there in the 1992 election, the first election after redistricting brought the region into the 5th District.

    In each of the last two elections, Hoyer rolled up his traditional majority in the Prince George's portions of the 5th District, which contain nearly half of the district's voters.

    In the district as a whole, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 3 to 2.

    Republicans note that Morgan won reelection as a delegate in a district that is only 33 percent Republican. They hope he can erode Hoyer's edge in Prince George's County while winning majorities elsewhere.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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