District 8 Congressional Race: Morella Beats Big-Spending Opponent

Sparking comparisons to the current Democratic primary battle for the seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the 1986 District 8 primary also attracted a crowd of candidates —including a wealthy businessman.

In the mid-1980s, the Montgomery County Democratic Party was divided between two factions. One was led by state legislators Sidney Kramer and Ida Ruben from the Silver Spring area; the other by County Council members Esther Gelman and David Scull from the Bethesda/Potomac area. Personalities and growth and development in the county fueled the division. “It was pretty bloodthirsty,” recalled one person then involved in local politics. Kramer and Scull battled for the Democratic nod for county executive in 1986, while Gelman took on state Sen. Stewart Bainum—allied with the Kramer-Ruben faction—for the seat being vacated by Rep. Michael Barnes.

In the September Democratic congressional primary, Gelman finished second to Bainum. The factional in-fighting continued into the general election, with Gelman backers boosting the candidacy of state Del. Connie Morella, winner of the Republican primary. Bainum, heir to a nursing home fortune, spent $1.5 million on his campaign—a relative pittance compared to this year’s spending. But the moderate-to-liberal Morella proved more appealing, benefitting from the endorsement of The Washington Post as well as the split in the Democratic ranks. She won and held the seat for 16 years.

Pictured: Connie Morella