Is Republican Bill Brock a carpetbagger? Now that the former Tennessee senator is formally in the running for the seat long held by Democrat Sen. Paul Sarbanes, Marylanders should face this issue promptly -- and promptly discard it.
Since he was first elected to the House of Representatives 32 years ago, Mr. Brock has either lived in Maryland or across the border in Washington, D.C. "This is my home, my children's home," he said in launching his campaign. "True, I wasn't born here. I am a Marylander -- by choice."
Having lived in Annapolis since 1985 and in Montgomery County between 1966 and 1971, Mr. Brock is not a carpetbagger in the sense that Robert F. Kennedy or Jay Rockefeller were when they came to the Senate representing New York and West Virginia, respectively. Nor he is a late-comer to the Free State as were the GOP contenders in the last three Senate elections won easily by Mr. Sarbanes and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
In a mobile society, place of birth is not as important as it once was. What should count is commitment. In the GOP primary, where he will meet his share of native sons and daughters, and then in the general election if he survives the primary, Mr. Brock lTC needs to show he knows this state, has a feel for its culture and aspirations and is ready to support its interests with vigor and leadership.
This should be an issues campaign, not a personality campaign. Mr. Sarbanes deserves to be challenged directly and in depth, especially since he keeps such a low, backbench profile.
Mr. Brock told The Sun the other day that winning a Senate seat shouldn't mean "going down to never-never land and thinking great thoughts" -- a clear shot at the incumbent. So he plans to examine the Sarbanes voting record, one of the most liberal in the Senate, and to zero in on matters where they differ fundamentally: trade policy, taxes, health care, federal regulations, congressional mandates. Crime and welfare reform, interlinked, are high on the Brock agenda.
Senator Sarbanes says he will counter by exposing Mr. Brock's conservative voting record as a young Tennessee legislator. Mr. Brock admits he cast some dumb votes, especially on civil rights, but will stress his record as a moderate secretary of Labor in the Reagan cabinet. He clearly wants to put himself in the "Mac" Mathias tradition.
In a Sarbanes-Brock contest, the two parties would each spend more than $3 million -- the Democrats because they regard Maryland as a must-hold seat and the Republicans because they see a Maryland upset as part of a national comeback. But first Mr. Brock has to survive -- and define himself before -- the September primary.