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In 43rd, GOP shifts emphasis from abortion to Pica


David Blumberg -- head of Baltimore's small but brave Republican Party, which hasn't elected anyone to the General Assembly from the city since 1954 -- is always looking for a reason to hope. And these days, Mr. Blumberg is looking to Jim Brewster.

In Northeast Baltimore's 43rd District, Mr. Brewster, a first-time candidate, is challenging two-term state Sen. John A. Pica Jr.

Mr. Brewster charges that Mr. Pica is too liberal for the district, too casual about Senate attendance and "out of touch" with voters on the issue of abortion.

Mr. Brewster, Mr. Pica responds, is "very annoying."

"Jim Brewster is a fanatic," the senator says. "He's a one-issue campaign." The issue is abortion. "It's his

whole campaign," Mr. Pica says.

Indeed, Mr. Brewster's red-and-white campaign signs bear the anti-abortion slogan "For Maryland, For Life." But Mr. Brewster says those signs go back to the spring, when he planned to make his staunchly anti-abortion beliefs the centerpiece of the race.

But now, Mr. Brewster has decided the issue is not abortion. The issue, he says, is John Pica.

In September, Mr. Pica survived the Democratic primary by a heart-stopping 44 votes over Martin O'Malley. The close call moved Mr. Pica, 38, to swear he would "mold a different personality and character" and stay in closer touch with the voters.

Mr. Blumberg, whose party members are largely outnumbered by Democrats, was delighted with the primary results.

"We're just thankful Pica won, because he's vulnerable," Mr. Blumberg said. "This is the race we wanted."

The 43rd District is the "only district where we're truly competitive," Mr. Blumberg said. Citywide, 9.3 Democrats are registered for every Republican. But in the 43rd District, the ratio is 5 Democrats to every Republican.

A lone Republican, 21-year-old Hamilton student Robert T. Menas, is vying for one of the three House of Delegate seats against Democratic incumbents Gerald J. Curran, Ann Marie Doory and Henry Hergenroeder Jr. But Mr. Blumberg pins his hopes on the Senate race.

"If we can get the disaffected people out to vote, I think Brewster's got a heck of a shot," Mr. Blumberg said.

In the September primary, several determined abortion opponents around the state were defeated by candidates who believe in keeping abortion legal. Some candidates who oppose abortion began to play the issue down, saying others were at least as important.

Mr. Blumberg and Mr. Brewster acknowledge that the Brewster campaign, focused early as an anti-abortion race, now has shifted its emphasis.

Mr. Brewster, a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard Reserve who left active duty after 13 years to run for office, is campaigning door to door in Northeast Baltimore. He's telling voters that Mr. Pica has missed 1,930 votes in eight years in Annapolis -- an allegation he picked up from Mr. O'Malley's campaign.

Mr. Pica calls such statistics misleading. "I've never missed a day of work, never," the senator said, "except for when my mom died and when I had a back operation."

He acknowledges that he misses some votes because he is chairman of the city senators and sometimes is called off the floor. But he said some of the votes Mr. Brewster is counting are less important preliminary counts. He said he never misses final votes on important issues.

Mr. Brewster is skeptical. "He shouldn't be surprised that people expect him to show up for work," he said of the senator.

A native of Albany, N.Y., Mr. Brewster lived in Cleveland for seven years before moving to Baltimore in 1987. He is running largely because "I don't like the viewpoints of most of the people in office."

Mr. Brewster, who says he can trace his forebears back to the Mayflower, has three children, ages 6, 4 1/2 and 18 months. They will be taught at home, at least for now, because "in public school they will not learn how God influenced the development of the country."

LTC He notes that George Washington Carver prayed for inspiration as he did his famous studies on the use of the peanut and that an English-speaking Indian, Squanto, met the Pilgrims when they landed in Massachusetts.

Those are just two instances of God's help to Americans, Mr. Brewster said. But those kinds of stories are deleted from public-school curricula today, he said.

To improve education, he favors giving parents vouchers worth $3,500 per child to be used for tuition at any public or private school. The marketplace competition fostered by such a system would "finally force state educators to operate in a cost-conscious, businesslike manner" and to copy the curricula that consistently produce the best students, Mr. Brewster said.

Mr. Pica dismisses the idea, saying it "smacks of racism." He calls it a "smoke screen" that would allow white parents to justify pulling their children out of public schools at government expense, the senator added.

Mr. Brewster, however, said the vouchers would give poor parents, black or white, the same opportunity as the rich to compete for the best schools.

The two also differ sharply on abortion. Mr. Brewster believes abortion "has no place in society," not even in cases of rape or incest. "I believe life starts at conception. John Pica has other opinions."

Mr. Pica was a member of the abortion-rights caucus that tried to pass a bill protecting the right to abortion in Maryland. He says Mr. Brewster talks about having "abortion-enforcement squads" policing women and doctors, a stand that bespeaks a "total disregard for women."

Mr. Brewster says what he has in mind are undercover police teams specially trained to track down doctors or others performing illegal abortions.

"If we're going to pass a law to make an activity illegal, we'll have to find a way to enforce it," Mr. Brewster said.

Mr. Brewster said he envisions companion programs that would help women who choose not to have abortions, focusing instead on preventing pregnancy or encouraging women to give birth and keep their babies.

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