WASHINGTON -- Hoping to capitalize on the success of a storied political family to wrest a House seat from a popular Republican, some Democrats are urging Maryland Del. Mark K. Shriver to challenge Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County next year.
Shriver's chief champion is his first cousin -- Rhode Island Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, the son of Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy -- who is leading the Democratic effort to retake control of the House.
But Shriver, the scion of two prominent political families with significant ambitions of his own, has expressed some reluctance to take on Morella, a moderate Republican popular among her largely Democratic constituency.
"Have we talked about it? Yes," said Shriver, 35. "Have I made a commitment to him? No."
Shriver is the son of former Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy. He is also the cousin of Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
In an interview last night, he refused to rule out a run for Congress, but he said he was focused on his legislative duties in Annapolis. This year's General Assembly session lasts another month.
There's a certain logic to running next year, several campaign veterans said: Shriver's legislative post does not come up again until 2002, so he would not risk it in challenging Morella, and presidential politics tend to lift Democratic turnout in Maryland. He has shown that he can raise money, collecting more than $225,000 for his re-election bid last fall -- a sum more typical for congressional than legislative campaigns.
But, they cautioned, Shriver has just started an Internet-based company in Bethesda. He has a year-old daughter. And he might want to wait until Morella, who is 68, retires, or until the district's lines are redrawn more favorably before the 2002 elections.
After last November's election, Kennedy asked Shriver if he would face Morella, who has been flirting with a run at the Senate seat of Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat who is seeking a fifth term.
Several Democratic operatives close to both men said yesterday that the cousins' frequent conversations about personal lives and politics have turned repeatedly to the 2000 election in the past few months. During last year's campaign for re-election to the legislature, a Shriver campaign aide said, many of his Montgomery County constituents asked why he had not taken on Morella.
"If one were going to get into the race, one would look at it sooner rather than later," Shriver said. "Right now, I'm concentrating on the issues for the next 30 days."
Because the 2000 Democratic Maryland primaries take place in March, Shriver won't have much time to make his decision, several people active in Maryland politics said. The 1998 Democratic nominee, former civil rights lobbyist Ralph G. Neas, barely let up after the November elections before he started his campaign to make another go at Morella.
"Obviously, Mark and others would make good candidates," said Neas, who raised more than $800,000 last year, but won just 40 percent of the vote. "If there were a contested primary, it would be fun, spirited, and very contested."
Morella's top aide betrayed no concern at the prospect of facing Shriver.
"They keep trotting out new guys, and Connie keeps winning with large margins in a very Democratic district," said Bill Miller, her chief of staff and campaign manager. "They believe in her."
Pub Date: 3/12/99