THE FUTURE OF Baltimore to great degree hinges on its relationship with communities beyond its borders. That makes the 3rd Congressional District very important to the city. Its center is the Inner Harbor, from which it extends northeastward through Highlandtown, Overlea and Parkville; northwest along Park Heights Avenue through Pikesville and Owings Mills; southwest past Arbutus, Lansdowne and Linthicum to Fort Meade and Columbia. That district's representative must be someone sensitive to the concerns of urban residents with the fiscal pragmatism suburban dwellers seem to favor.
For 10 years, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin has more than adequately filled that role. He deserves the Democratic nomination in that party's primary. Mr. Cardin has been surprising Marylanders with his ability to serve since being elected to the state House of Delegates when he was only 23 years old.
He served in the legislature 20 years, then succeeded Barbara Mikulski in Congress after she was elected to the Senate. The Democrats have ceded control of Congress, but Mr. Cardin remains an influential player. His stature has helped Maryland during the current federal retrenchment. If elected to a fifth term, look for Mr. Cardin to play a crucial role in the debate over welfare, Medicare and Medicaid reform as they relate to the need to balance the budget.
Patrick L. McDonough, the best candidate among Republicans seeking that party's nomination in the 3rd District, offers a clear contrast to Mr. Cardin in how to achieve those reforms. Mr. McDonough most recently has been expressing his conservative ideas as a radio talk show host on WCBM. But some Marylanders may remember his service in the House of Delegates. Elected as a Democrat in 1978 to represent East Baltimore, he served one term. He changed his party affiliation in 1987, saying the Democrats had become too liberal.
In Mr. Cardin and Mr. McDonough, voters have two good candidates who can articulate the differences in the approaches their respective parties would take in solving the urban and suburban problems affecting not just the 3rd District, but America. In Tuesday's primary, The Sun endorses Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin for the Democrats and Patrick L. McDonough for the Republicans.