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  • Maryland Elections '98

  •   Morella Challenge Announced

    By Manuel Perez-Rivas
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 18, 1997; Page A06

    Vowing to succeed where other Montgomery County Democrats have failed time after time, former civil rights activist Ralph G. Neas announced his candidacy yesterday for the seat that Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.) has held comfortably for more than a decade.

    While the filing deadline for the 1998 election is still months away, Neas's candidacy has gained support from Democrats who believe his ability to raise funds and his contacts with national Democratic circles give him a better chance of defeating Morella than any of her recent challengers.

    Neas, 51, is the former executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Under his stewardship, the group played a key role in defeating Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination, and the organization was a strong supporter of the Americans With Disabilities Act. During the last two years, he has headed his own consulting firm in Washington and taught at Georgetown University.

    "At this point, it's clear that Ralph is far and away the leading contender for the Democratic nomination," said George Leventhal, the county's Democratic chairman, who was one of several high-ranking officials in the local party organization in attendance at the announcement.

    In his announcement speech, Neas cited a variety of issues he said he would support, from providing affordable child care, to defending the quality of Montgomery County schools, to making college more affordable for the middle class, to protecting Social Security and Medicare.

    Neas is a former "progressive" Republican, having switched party allegiances in 1996. He said that the GOP shifted ideologically to the right during the 104th Congress, and that as a result, the conservatives now at the helm of the Republican Party "leave no room for moderates."

    After his speech, he said he plans to highlight Morella's record since the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress in an effort to show that the moderate Republican has shifted more to the right.

    Bill Miller, Morella's chief of staff, said the representative isn't planning to begin campaigning for months. "The election is still a year away," he said. But, responding to Neas's argument that Morella has voted for conservative causes not in line with views of her constituents in Montgomery's 8th Congressional District, Miller said many of the issues Neas raised in his announcement are the same issues that Morella supports.

    "Don Mooers tried to make that an issue, too, saying she had become more conservative," Miller said, referring to Morella's previous challenger. "The voters rejected that."

    Neas said he takes encouragement from Mooers's effort in the 1996 campaign. Though Mooers was able to raise little money -- only a small fraction of the $1 million Neas believes he can raise to get his message out -- Mooers got nearly 40 percent of the vote.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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