Depending on whom one asks, the coming elections in District 23 could be a major statement on abortion or on voters' preoccupation with more everyday concerns.
The Democratic primary that will select a senator and three candidates for the House of Delegates features three challengers hammering out abortion rights messages and four antiabortion incumbents who say this is not a single-issue election.
Candidates Terezie S. Bohrer and Donna Jo Campbell, who favor abortion rights, are vying for the Senate seat against incumbent Leo Green, a 12-year veteran of the legislature who was part of an eight-day Senate filibuster that killed abortion rights legislation in the General Asembly this year.
Many of those incumbents have been targeted by state and national abortion rights organizations that have thrown support and money to the campaigns of challengers such as Bohrer. The National Women's Political Caucus, for example, is paying for Bohrer's telephone bank.
Green and several antiabortion candidates in the county say their constituents are hardly discussing abortion, raising questions instead about the environment, transportation and taxes.
"People do not bring up abortion, to be honest with you," Green said.
Bohrer is getting a different picture from residents: "It's very hard to talk about anything else."
Whoever wins the primary will automatically get a four-year Senate term because there is no Republican challenger.
Running for the House of Delegates are incumbents Mary A. Conroy, Joan Breslin Pitkin and Charles J. Ryan, all on the local slate with Green. Although its members have similar views on abortion, the slate is not antiabortion per se, Conroy said. Antoinette Bram, a Greenbelt City Council member, is running independently.
The three top vote-getters in the Democratic primary for the delegate seats will face Republicans Robert S. Sanders, James William Thompson and Roger Chamberlain in the November election.
In the Senate race, political observers consider Bohrer, 51, a formidable candidate because of her well-organized, well-financed campaign and background in civic activism. Bohrer, a registered nurse and director of disability services for the county Health Department, has the endorsements of area health organizations and national and local women's groups.
Recycling, health care and family issues are among the issues Bohrer said she is addressing in the campaign. But Bohrer said she entered the race after watching Green during the abortion filibuster.
The Senate filibuster blocked approval of a bill that would have guaranteed continued availability of abortions during the early stages of pregnancy.
Bohrer's campaign hired Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc. to poll District 23 residents. It found that 67 percent of those surveyed favored a woman's choice on abortion, while 23 percent oppose abortion except in extreme circumstances. Four percent of those surveyed in May opposed any legalization of abortion.
Green, who calls Bohrer a single-issue candidate, said the results may reflect citizens' sentiments but not necessarily their politics. The poll "doesn't ask whether you'll vote for Leo Green," he said. "I think the public will look at the whole person."
Green's reelection bid focuses on his record in the Senate and House. His efforts included bringing this traffic-choked district money for major road construction. One of his strongest selling points is that he is already entrenched in the Senate and can play a major role next year when the General Assembly takes up issues such as educational parity and government ethics.
"My experience, my leadership, my coalition-building will enable me to address those issues on behalf of my district," Green said.
Campbell, the third Senate candidate and a freelance artist, also lists senior citizen and family issues among her top concerns. She bemoans the role that special-interest groups play in elections and is waging a fledgling campaign that has turned out no signs or literature.
"My other two opponents are having a sign war," said Campbell, 56. "Leo has got a sign up in every Catholic's yard. Terry is trying to keep up with him."
The 23rd legislative district covers a wide swath of the northeastern edge of the county, from Greenbelt to as far south as Leland Road, encompassing Bowie, Seabrook and parts of Mitchellville.
The area is home to about 27,000 registered Democrats and 18,000 registered Republicans, most of whom live in solidly middle- and upper middle-class neighborhoods. The district has experienced rapid development in recent years, and growth and transportation are major issues among voters.
The House reelection bid of Ryan is getting a boost from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is scheduled to campaign with Ryan Aug. 31. Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg is scheduled to stump with Ryan today.
Ryan, 54, is chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. In recent elections, he has slightly trailed the other incumbents, getting 27 percent of the vote in 1986.
Pitkin, 58, is running on her record as a delegate in the House since 1979. Pitkin lists development, taxes, recycling and transportation as the major issues she would work on, if reelected. She has already drafted a bill prohibiting use of state transportation funds for construction of the proposed Eastern Bypass, the outer county beltway that many in her district oppose.
During her recent term she pushed through legislation designed to improve health care for women and sponsored a bill that established drug-free zones around schools and another that increased penalties for drug kingpins.
Conroy, 58, served a partial Senate term from 1982 to 1983 when she was chosen to fill the seat of her late husband. She was appointed to the House of Delegates in May 1986 to fill the unexpired term of Del. Gerard Devlin, and was elected in November of that year.
Conroy said her reelection would allow her to continue to work on issues involving the disabled, transporation, education and health care.
Bram, 54, has been on the Greenbelt City Council since 1983. Improving health services for the elderly and expanding programs for low-income women and children are among her legislative goals. Her abortion rights campaign has brought an endorsement from the county's Women's Political Caucus.
Bram is running a low-budget campaign with about $16,000 in gifts and pledges, and said if it takes the abortion issue to get her elected she will flaunt her position. But she said that the abortion issue is not dominating the dialogue between candidates and voters.
"Since it is a personal and private issue, people don't want to talk about it," she said. "But they're willing to vote on it."