In her first printed appeal for support, Maryland Senate candidate Terezie S. Bohrer prominently displayed the word "choice," using its six letters to begin the words commitment, harmony, outstanding, integrity, compassion and experience.
When she later published a slick campaign brochure, it was headlined: "Your Choice, Your Future." Her bumper stickers and yard signs now carry the message: "My Choice: Bohrer, State Senate."
The recurring word is no coincidence.
"I make no bones about it," said Bohrer, one of three candidates for the Democratic nomination in Prince George's County's 23rd District. "The idea was to give the message consciously and up front."
Political candidates, like advertising executives, are forever on the lookout for short, emotion-laden words to communicate quickly to a busy public. "Choice" and its counterpoint, "pro-life," represent the state of the political art in translating complex concepts about abortion into simple, universally appealing slogans.
In many races for the Maryland General Assembly this year, the search for a slogan began and ended with the code word "choice," short for "pro-choice," the favored term of an abortion-rights movement that contends that individuals, rather than the government, should make decisions on abortion.
Abortion rights candidates are seeking to capitalize on polls showing 65 percent of Maryland voters -- and more than 70 percent in Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- favor keeping abortions legal. The use of the "pro-life" slogan has been much less evident by antiabortion candidates, who generally have sought to frame their campaigns around a range of issues and attacked abortion rights opponents as single-issue candidates.
The "choice" shorthand probably wouldn't have been as potent before the surge in awareness last summer, when the Supreme Court gave states more power to restrict abortions. But "choice" also is a word that greatly vexes antiabortion advocates.
"It seems to be cropping up everywhere," said Pat Kelly, a leader of Maryland Right to Life. "But they're not giving the whole story, knowing how the American public responds to rhetoric about taking away rights or choices. You don't have the right to take another life."
Since a committed band of Maryland antiabortion senators narrowly forestalled passage of a bill in March guaranteeing women access to early-term abortions, the issue has become a mainstay in at least two dozen General Assembly races around Maryland.
In Montgomery County's District 15, for example, House of Delegates candidate Rosemary Glynn calls herself the "Voice for Choice." House candidate Stephen Silberfarb kicked off his District 18 campaign with literature labeling him "The Right Choice." And a slate of Senate and House candidates in District 18 is identified in its advertising as the "Choice Team."
"It's being used everywhere. If it's not part of the slogan, it's part of the literature," said Karyn Strickler, executive director of the Maryland chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Adoption of the popular concept of "choice" was deliberate on the part of abortion-rights organizations, Strickler said.
"For a lot of years the opposition tried to paint us as pro-abortion," she said. "A lot of people sat back and said, 'Wait, I'm not personally in favor of abortion.' Those who had an emotional reaction found it much easier to deal with when it was framed as a right to choose . . . ."
Kelly, of Maryland Right to Life, said abortion rights advocates are playing on that idea.
"It bothers me," she said. "We have a confused public. The effort to promote this word choice is to capitalize on that."
The emphasis of one word in a campaign, however, can have its pitfalls.
Sen. Leo E. Green, a Democratic incumbent who is being challenged in the Sept. 11 primary by Bohrer and Donna Jo Campbell, of Bowie, was among the 16 senators who mounted an eight-day filibuster to block approval of abortion legislation in the General Assembly.
Like other antiabortion incumbents under siege this year, Green has criticized Bohrer, in particular, as an inexperienced, single-issue candidate.
"The danger is if a person doesn't know me and my many other activities in the county," Bohrer conceded. "I don't want to be seen as having only one issue. Senator Green made it the issue as part of the filibuster. It certainly is a very important issue, but it's not the only issue."