Because of a typographical error in some editions yesterday, Del. Constance Morella of Montgomery County, a Republican candidate in the 8th Congressional District, was incorrectly identified as a Democratic activist.
In the rustic room overlooking the velvety greens at Argyle Country Club, the refined Republican women lunched on stroganoff and peach melba and then turned to the business of politics.
First came subdued debate among the four Republican candidates in Montgomery County's congressional primary.
Next, the audience's polite questions.
Then suddenly, there were boos and hisses, shouts and cries of "Answer the question . . . answer it" -- and the spectacle of candidate Robin Ficker fighting for the microphone with the female moderator.
The brief tussle was the highlight so far in the unlikely drama unfolding these days in the 8th Congressional District, where the fractious Democrats usually do the fighting and the genteel Republicans just sit back and smile.
"It is a refreshing switch," said Blair Lee III, a lifelong Montgomery Democrat and former acting governor. "Before it's over, they'll all be angry with each other. In the last week they usually get frantic."
As that final week before the May 13 primary approaches, four Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination: State Delegates Ficker and Constance Morella, former Congressman Newton Steers, and Phillip Buford, a member of the county Republican central committee. At stake is the chance to take on Rep. Michael Barnes, who upset then-incumbent Steers by a narrow margin in 1978 to become the first Democrat to hold that congressional seat in nearly two decades.
For the Republicans, the new sensation of being the outsiders trying to get in has set off a spirited campaign, with Ficker's unpredictable ways spicing up the show.
The little fracas at Silver Spring's Argyle Country Club was prompted by newspaper advertisements Ficker ran showing his smiling portrait next to that of Republican presidential front-runner Ronald Reagan under the caption: "Vote for these two fine leaders!"
"Do we assume from the ads that you're running a joint campaign with Mr. Reagan?" a woman in Argyle's ballroom inquired.
Ficker then launched into a passionate endorsement of Reagan, proclaiming, "I'm pround of it . . . and furthermore, I reserve the right to publicize Ronald Reagan in my ads . . ."
Ficker continued talking, oblivious to the audience's boos and cries of "Answer the question" as well as 60-second time limit until the moderator finally took away his microphone.
To the charge that he refused to answer the Reagan question, Ficker responds: "That's their interpretation. My opponents haven't answered other questions."
Reagan's Maryland campaign chairman denies emphatically that there is any connection with Ficker, but Ficker has started running Reagan's picture along with his own on some of his congressional campaign literature.
Morella and Steers, considered the major contenders in the race, dismiss Ficker, a gadfly who has run for office every other year since 1970 -- finally capturing a House of Delegates seat in 1978.
The 62-year-old Steers, a millionaire turned bureaucrat, then state senator and U.S. congressman, seldom allows even the names of his opponents to pass his lips.
"I don't like to say anything about them," he says. "I'm anxious to avoid any criticism of my opponents."
Steers' campaign chairman, state Sen. Howard Denis, says that both Steers and Morella are trying to keep the campaign "on a high plane.
"Call it minority psychology," said Denis, "When you're part of any minority, you cannot afford to have deep divisions and still succeed."
Indeed, the registered Republicans in the district, which covers almost all of Montgomery County, are outnumbered by registered Democrats by better than two to one.
Yet until Barnes came along in 1978 the county's well-heeled and highly educated voters had elected liberal Republicans to represent them in Congress for 18 straight years, in part because the Democrats always chewed each other up in the primaries.
In this primary, Steers, the professorial-looking Hotchkiss and Yale man, can afford to be magnanimous to the opposition.
He enjoys the support of the county's most widely known Republicans, his campaign chairmen Denis and the irrepressible Del. Luiz Simmons.
He has spent nearly $105,000 on his campaign -- more than all of his opponents combined -- and $50,000 has come from his own considerable fortune.
The money has gone to hiring a professional campaign manager, press secretary and political consultant and to producing a 12-minute movie that is shown at campaign coffees.
His expenditures are likely to climb even higher now that he is running 30-second TV spots that present him as the man "who knows his job and understands what it takes to get it done."
At small gatherings where the decor runs to priceless Persian rugs and the favored drink is sherry, Steers reels off a canned speech on how to stem "galloping inflation": reduce federal spending, reform the tax system, increase productivity and produce more energy in the United States.
An always, he sells himself as the man of experience -- former Maryland insurance commissioner, former state senator and former congressman.
Indeed, as one local Republican put it, "Some people think he still is the congressman."
Lest Steers forget it for a moment, though, Morella is usually around to remind him that he lost the congressional seat to Barnes -- a virtual unknown making his first political run in 1978.
Morella, a 49-year-old English professor who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1978 in her second political outing, is billing herself as the only candidate who can regain what she likes to call "our Republican seat in Congress."
"Let a winner lead the way," proclaims her slick black-and-yellow campaign literature and the commercials that recently began running on local television.
In their debates Morella resolutely attacks Steers as an incumbent congressman who pulled off the virtually impossible feat of losing and as a Republican who voted more often with the Democrats than his own party in Congress.
Though Morella is groping for a way to set herself apart from Steers, many Republicans agree with the assessment of county central committee chairman Sheila Brandt that "Connie and Newt are pretty close in the way they vote . . . their outlook on legislation. I would call them both moderate."
Some Democrats thought Morella was the greatest threat to Barnes when she entered the race. "She's a longtime Democratic activist. "And the thing that really scared us is the female thing.The most potentially strong candidate for either party would be a woman."
But somehow -- despite a solid volunteer organization, the expenditure of at least $40,000 and her latest ploy, a cross-county walk that has moved in fits and starts from the Frederick County line -- Morella's campaign has failed to ignite much interest.
Even her campaign manager Mary Yerrick complains, "I think Connie has the best chance to win the general [election], but it's difficult to get her name before the public . . . to let them know there is someone else besides Newt Steers in the race."
This time out, Ficker is preaching a straight conservative line, but some conservative Republicans can still remember, as one of them noted, "He's the same Robin Ficker that wanted to elect a Kennedy."
That was in 1972, when Ficker was seeking the Democrat nomination for Congress and organizing a New Hampshire write-in campaign for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Ficker later ran as an independent for Congress in 1976, and then switched to Republican garb for his successful 1978 House of Delegates race.
Buford, his conservative opponent in the primary field, said he entered the race because he feels Morella and Steers are "too liberal" for mainstream Republicans and Ficker is "an unreliable and undependable" conservative. But Buford, an engineer, was a latecomer to the race, has collected less than $5,000 in contributions and is considered by far an underdog in the field.