Invoking the slaying last week of her father, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ruthann Aron called for tougher sentences for criminals and took shots at one of her chief rivals for the nomination during a televised forum last night.
The one-hour session aired live on WBFF-TV (Channel 45) was the first head-to-head meeting of the leading four contenders for the job now held by three-term Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who faces token opposition in the Sept. 13 primary.
The participants included the political target of Ms. Aron's jabs, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock, as well as first-term state Del. C. Ronald Franks and perennial candidate Ross Z. Pierpont.
In the opening rounds, Ms. Aron, a Montgomery County developer, argued for more police and a less politicized approach to crime in America.
She made her first public statements on the slaying of her father, David Greenzweig, 77, who was beaten to death a week ago today during an apparent robbery at his home in South Fallsburg, N.Y.
"It was very difficult to come here tonight,' said Ms. Aron. 'But I felt I had to do that, not only in my father's memory, but for all of those in our county who have been victims or the family of victims of violent crime. Crime is not a political football, and it shouldn't be used as such. As you can tell from my personal experience, we're all one phone call away from a tragedy in our lives."
Ms. Aron peppered her answers to panelists' questions with criticisms of Mr. Brock, who has raised the most money of any of the Republican hopefuls and has been regarded as the GOP front-runner. She criticized his work advising foreign governments on trade issues after serving in the Reagan White House as the nation's trade representative and she criticized a vote he cast to increase taxes while he was in the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Brock made good on his early pledge in the race not to counter-attack fellow Republicans. Instead, he met each parry with a laugh and cited his own accomplishments, including a free-trade agreement he pushed with Canada that he said created thousands of jobs in Maryland.
"I didn't come here and I don't intend to spend any time beating up on other Republicans," Mr. Brock said. "My task is to beat Paul Sarbanes."
Last night's program offered the candidates -- three of them continuing to struggle for name recognition -- probably their greatest opportunity to connect with prospective voters.
Based on registration figures and past turnout, the Republican nomination this year could be decided by as few as 176,000 voters.
The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce and the Fox network's Baltimore television affiliate sponsored the forum.
The four Republican candidates who appeared were chosen based on their showings in a July poll that Mason-Dixon Political Media Research in Columbia conducted for The Sun and other news organizations.
Excluded were the three other candidates, Howard D. Greyber, Culver Sprogle Ladd Jr. and John C. Webb Jr.
During the forum, panelists questioned the candidates on major issues of the day, including health care, crime and Cuba.
Mr. Franks, a dentist from Grasonville, emphasized tort reform to help reduce health care costs, while noting than more than half the members of the U.S. Senate are lawyers and resistant to that type of change.
He also defended his recent fund-raising raffle of a weapon that is about to be banned for sale by the crime bill.
Mr. Franks pointed out that the rifle -- an AR-15 H-BARQ was designed for target shooting, and he said it was a victim of prejudice because of its military appearance.
"There are preconceived prejudices .. that are not true," he said.
Dr. Pierpont, a retired Baltimore surgeon who has campaigned unsuccessfully 12 times for various state and municipal offices, said he supports high-level discussions with Cuba to resolve the current refugee crisis.
"I'd meet the Devil if I thought it would get the problem solved," said Dr. Pierpont, who provided some of the evening's lighter moments.
The four candidates are scheduled to meet again tonight at Bethesda/Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County, at an untelevised forum held by the state Republican Party.