Mr. Talk Radio is taking on Goliath in Maryland's 3rd District congressional race.
Former radio personality turned Republican candidate Patrick L. McDonough is looking for an Achilles' heel in politically powerful U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin by heckling him with Rush-Limbaugh-style barbs.
"He talks tough like Arnold Schwarzenegger but votes like Pee-Wee Herman," McDonough, a Republican, repeatedly has said of the veteran congressman's voting record on crime. "Cardin's voting record is so bad and so extreme even dead people in Baltimore won't vote for him."
Cardin, 52, seeking a sixth term after five landslide victories, said he's not flustered by what he calls "Gingrich-style rhetoric."
"I'm going to win the election," the Democrat says flatly and surely. "It's going to take more than one-liners. The voters are going to see through that. They want a reasonable person in this office."
Whether you like his jokes or not, McDonough, also 52, represents the hardest-charging challenger Cardin has faced in the 3rd District, which includes the Highlandtown area, Pikesville, Owings Mills, and part of Columbia. Eighty percent of the district's 597,000 residents are white, with a median household income of $35,970.
McDonough, a former state delegate who once represented Baltimore's 46th Legislative District, has raised three times more money -- $26,082 as of June 30 -- than any of Cardin's previous challengers. He has been billing himself as tough on crime and looking to cut taxes.
And he is using his talk-radio style -- he was host of his own show on WCBM from 1988 to 1990 and owns a Harford County community radio station -- to needle Cardin as a tax-and-spend liberal.
"Having Ben Cardin show up every day in Washington is like having [bank robber] Willie Sutton roam around loose in a bank vault he's the tax king," he said on a recent WCBM radio debate with Cardin.
Cardin, focusing his campaign on health care, the environment, and reducing the federal deficit, has at times gone on the attack himself in recent weeks, claiming that McDonough has distorted his voting record. He cited McDonough's repeated claims that Cardin did not support death penalty sanctions against drug kingpins.
House records show that Cardin voted for a 1994 Omnibus crime bill amendment that sought to establish factors for determining whether kingpins should get the death penalty.
"He's so reckless and careless in portraying my record," Cardin said. "Let's talk about our differences and not misrepresent the facts to the public. If you can't get the issues straight, you shouldn't be running for Congress."
The two candidates don't agree on much, and their philosophies are as opposed as the Democratic and Republican ideologies.
McDonough said he will fight to divert more money into law enforcement and favors zero-tolerance policing, building more prisons and hard-line approaches to dealing with the drug problem.
"A lot of the Democrats will talk about locking up guns and tell you that is how they are going to solve the crime problem," he said. "That is a lie. Locking up criminals will solve the crime problem."
Cardin favors community policing, maintaining current funding levels for welfare, and increased funding for homeless shelters and low-income housing projects.
"I find that people I'm talking to are worried about the Republican tax cut proposals," Cardin said. "My senior citizens want to know if it's going to come out of their hides, and my students want to know if it's going to come out of their student aid."
Before his election to Congress, Cardin served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1967 to 1987, the last eight years of which he was House speaker. Considered a powerful and entrenched Maryland political figure, he has been mentioned as a possible contender for the 1998 gubernatorial race. He lives in Stevenson.
McDonough of Perry Hall hasn't always been a staunch Republican, having served as a Democrat in the state legislature from 1978 to 1982. In 1979 he challenged Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer in the Democratic primary and finished second, losing by 55,794 votes.
Saying that he became disillusioned with the Democratic party because it was too liberal, McDonough ran as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in 1988 and came in a distant third to Potomac businessman Thomas L. Blair. Then, in 1994, he ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore County register of wills, the administrator for the Orphans' Court.
He says that he believes the 3rd District is a "winnable" race, citing high Republican vote totals for Ronald Reagan and unsuccessful 1994 gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey.
McDonough is trying to turn Cardin's financial strength -- by the end of June he had raised $348,807 -- against him by saying his opponent is "trying to buy the election with fat cat money" from political action committees. About 56 percent of the contributions to the Cardin campaign came from PACs, Federal Election Commission records show.
McDonough has received no money from PACs, which he points to as indicative of a "hard-charging, grass-roots campaign."
Cardin, who as a supporter of campaign finance reform has said that "big money has overwhelmed our federal election system," has proposed reducing the amount of special interest money flowing into politics. But he added that until campaign finance reform becomes law, he's not going to apologize for using PAC money.
"I'm all for change, but until the rules are changed, I'm going to play by the rules," he said. More than 200 PACs contributed to his campaign, election commission records show. He said the contributions come from a broad range of constituents and don't reflect heavy contributing from any one industry.
Pub Date: 9/07/96