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Hearing a rap on the conventional wisdom: Is door knocking passe?

The Baltimore Sun

The late Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican who served for more than two decades in the Maryland General Assembly, always said the surest way to elective success is to knock on 10,000 doors and impress voters within the first 30 seconds that you are intelligent enough to do the job and affable enough to be approachable.

Democrat Shane Pendergrass has spent 22 years in elective office, the past 14 as a member of the House of Delegates, yet she doesn't like knocking on doors, and doesn't do much of it, though she doesn't dispute the Kittleman credo.

"Knocking on doors season is summer and in Maryland it's very hot," she said, hours before her fundraiser last week at a Columbia lakefront restaurant. "I'm intruding on their personal space and their busy private lives," she said, and she's shy to boot. She does some door knocking, but not much these days.

So how has she been so successful?

"The answer is everybody sitting in this room," she told around 200 supporters at her Monday night event who collectively donated about $30,000, she said.

The next statewide election is 2010.

As a novice politician, Pendergrass did knock on doors during that first County Council election in 1986, she said. Her supporters "dragged me out at night to knock on doors," but "I do love my job and thank you for keeping me in my job," she told the crowd. Her legislative specialty is health care, which drew donations from health-related political action committees and businesses. She also sponsored state legislation last year to allow creation of the Healthy Howard health care access plan for uninsured county residents due to start in October.

Among the guests celebrating that program were County Executive Ken Ulman, and Del. Peter A. Hammen, chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, where Pendergrass serves as vice chairman. Lobbyists included former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, who has numerous health industry clients, and former five-term county Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who offered his own take on the door knocking tactic. All are Democrats.

"It sounds good when you're giving speeches to say you've done that," Gray said, but "you can only get to so many houses." Districts are bigger, and with e-mail and cable television, a candidate can reach far more people electronically and by direct mail. "Door-to-door is old-style politics."

Also attending was Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat and political ally of Pendergrass who is recovering from an April surgery. The operation was part of a long road back from prostate cancer in which the cure - radiation - has caused more trouble than the original ailment, Turner said.

"I'm feeling fine," Turner said, adding that he's about 80 percent recovered and regaining strength and energy.

A private affair

With the woes Republicans have suffered nationally and locally with election losses in 2006, it would seem logical for the GOP's successful candidates to seek publicity. But state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman's June 18 fundraiser featuring former lieutenant governor and unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele was private. Kittleman is the son of the late state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, whose seat he now holds.

"I had no problem" with having a news reporter present, Kittleman explained later, but one of his guests had requested that no reporters be admitted, and he felt obligated to honor it.

The event, held at the expansive Glenelg home of former party chairman Howard Rensin, drew about 200 people, including a group of lobbyists attracted by Kittleman's membership on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, according to several attendees. He raised about $30,000, he said.

According to Kittleman and several other people who attended but did not want to be identified, there was no apparent reason for the exclusivity.

Steele, now a frequent cable television guest, offered no startling insights, observers said. He talked about "missteps" the GOP has suffered that need to be reversed as the party rebuilds. Steele said he thinks the presidential race is now Republican Sen. John McCain's to lose, rather than favoring Democratic Sen. Barack Obama. Steele did not return a reporter's calls in the days after the event.

Kittleman said he refrained from making a political speech, and merely thanked his guests. "It was a night to have fun and for getting ready to run for re-election" to the Maryland Senate. There were also jokes about the two men being "brothers" despite Steele being African-American and Kittleman being white, since they were born within hours of each other. Both are to turn 50 in October.

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