Trying to get a foothold in his campaign against U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Republican opponent Paul H. Rappaport challenged the five-term senator yesterday to three public debates.
Standing on the sidewalk of the Bank of America building in downtown Baltimore where Sarbanes has an office, Rappaport said voters deserve to hear each candidate explain his political positions on issues affecting the state.
"People don't realize what his record is," he said, recounting what he characterized as a long string of liberal votes.
Sarbanes accepted the challenge yesterday, with his spokesman saying the senator will face Rappaport after Congress lets out in the fall.
"Senator Sarbanes has always debated his opponents and ... we'll debate again," said Michael H. Davis, Sarbanes' campaign manager.
Davis chided Rappaport for holding a news conference to announce his desire for debates. "He should just have his campaign contact me," Davis said.
Rappaport, 65, delivered his challenge while acknowledging that he faces a daunting task to unseat Sarbanes, who has served in Congress since 1967.
The latest federal campaign contribution reports, as of June 30, showed Sarbanes had collected $1.3 million. Rappaport had collected just shy of $40,000 with $8,000 in the bank.
In addition, Democrat voters outnumber Republicans in the state 2-to-1.
Rappaport attempted yesterday to use Sarbanes' full coffers against him. A Rappaport analysis of Sarbanes contributions showed that 79 percent, or 615 donations, came from out of state, accounting for close to $450,000, he said.
In addition, a little more than $200,000 came from banking interests, Rappaport said. Sarbanes, 67, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
Davis countered the criticism, noting that Sarbanes has become a ranking member of Congress who appeals to a national constituency. "Frankly, with the advent of C-SPAN, people get a national following," Davis said of Sarbanes. "People like what he does."
Rappaport also criticized Sarbanes for voting along Democratic lines in Congress, including the senator's opposition to a balanced budget amendment, the amendment against the desecration of the flag and repeal of the death and marriage penalty tax.
"I don't think we should have anyone that's either radical right or radical left," Rappaport said. "He's radical left."
Rappaport, who made unsuccessful bids to become Maryland's lieutenant governor in 1994 and attorney general in 1998, defeated six Republican primary opponents to earn the opportunity to face Sarbanes in November.