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Maryland's Morella faces 'fight of her life'

'I thought she was toast'

President Bush appears with Rep. Connie Morella, R-Maryland, at a June fundraiser.
President Bush appears with Rep. Connie Morella, R-Maryland, at a June fundraiser.  

From Kate Snow

BETHESDA, Maryland (CNN) -- She is, according to one political expert, "the most endangered Republican in the country."

Rep. Connie Morella, who has represented Maryland's affluent Montgomery County outside of Washington for 15 years, faces the fight of her political life this year, thanks to new district lines and formidable competition from the Democratic field.

"I think I am," Morella, 71, said of her endangered political status. "And I am because of the partisan bullies in the back rooms of Annapolis tried to do what they have not been able to do in the ballot boxes of Montgomery County."

Personable and popular, Morella has held onto the seat despite its strong Democratic presence -- a feat made more difficult this year by the new boundaries. She is known simply as "Connie" in the district, but the affection residents feel for the veteran lawmaker may not be enough this fall.

Redistricting took thousands of loyal Republican voters out of the 8th Congressional District and added thousands of new Democratic voters from nearby cities. Many of them are African American, among the most reliable of Democratic voters.

Adding to Morella's challenge is the fact that the Democratic field is led by a a nephew of President Kennedy -- Mark Shriver, who has already raised more than $2 million.

"When redistricting first came out, I thought she was gone, I thought she was toast." said Charlie Cook, a political analyst. "Since then, we've seen some polling that shows she's sort of hanging in there. I mean, she's going to have the fight of her life. It's going to be very, very difficult, but it's going to be a very close race."

Morella's battle has caught the attention of top Republicans, including President Bush, because a loss of just six seats means the GOP loses its majority in the House.

That point was underscored by Bush's offer of help to Morella. He appeared at a June fundraiser on her behalf.

"The reason people are here, Connie, is because they love you, they trust you and, like me, want you re-elected to the United States Congress," Bush said.

Such high-profile endorsements, however, could prove to be a double-edged sword. Morella has survived in her district, in part, because of her ability to distinguish herself from the national Republican Party and present a moderate to liberal image.

"I'm afraid she's being swayed by the party a little bit more than she has been in the past," said Neal Willens, a Democrat who said he's voted for Morella in the past, but doubts he will do so this year.

Morella, however, said she's not worried.

"Anyone can look at my record, or they know about me," she said. "My visibility is very, very high, and I'm not going to change because I am who I am."




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