The 8th District congressional primary race is ending with a series of debates milder in tone than what the rival campaigns are saying about each other in mailings and statements to the press.
In an hourlong forum yesterday on WUSA-TV (Channel 9), the four Democratic candidates from Montgomery County fielded questions - amiably and with few memorable exchanges - on transportation, health care and other topics.
"You are so polite!" news anchor Andrea Roane said at one point. It was the latest of more than a dozen relatively tame debates in advance of Tuesday's primary.
But after the debate, the campaign of state Del. Mark K. Shriver complained about a mailing sent to voters several days ago by opponent Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a state senator.
The flier promotes Van Hollen's "fight for expanded access to quality health care" and says Shriver "has not been the lead sponsor of a single piece of health care legislation" during his eight years in Annapolis.
Shriver spokesman Jay Strell disputed the brochure's claim and accused Van Hollen of quietly going negative. "Truth is becoming a casualty in Van Hollen's campaign," Strell said. "All his mailings bear that out. His TV spots bear that out. Mark is not about building himself up by tearing down other people's records."
Strell noted that Shriver sponsored a measure in this year's legislative session adding a provision to a patient bill of rights that requires an assessment of patients' pain management. "The guts of the bill was Shriver's," Strell said.
But Steve Jost, Van Hollen's campaign manager, said that while Shriver may have been involved in the measure, he was not the lead sponsor. "This is a positive mailer about Chris Van Hollen's record of achievement," Jost said. "If they find that negative, there's not much to be done about it."
Van Hollen's brochure noted that he led the effort to pass an HMO reform bill in 1999 and wrote a 2000 plan to spend money obtained from the state's tobacco settlement on cancer research, among other purposes.
Democratic congressional leaders have warned the party's 8th District candidates against negative attacks that could ultimately benefit Rep. Constance A. Morella, who is unopposed in the Republican primary. Besides Shriver and Van Hollen, the other Democrats in the race are former Clinton administration trade negotiator Ira Shapiro and lawyer Deborah Vollmer.
"You don't beat someone like Connie Morella by going negative," Shapiro said during yesterday's debate.
Jost said all the "hand-wringing" by congressional leaders had been for naught: "It's been a strong, substantive debate on the issues."
Van Hollen has said it is fair to use the public record to contrast the candidates' records. This summer, he sent a mailing saying Shriver "flip-flopped" on legislation to change an education formula and send additional funding to local schools. Shriver said that, while he had initial reservations, he helped push the plan through the House.