Don't look now, but the 1992 race for the 4th Congressional Districthas already begun.
"The Duckworth for Congress Committee still lives and my campaign is in a new phase," said Republican Robert Duckworth, who lost less than three months ago to Democratic incumbent Tom McMillen.
State Republicans see McMillen as the representative most primed for defeat after Wayne Gilchrest captured the 1st District seat from Democrat Roy Dyson last year.
"Tom McMillen will be the top targetin 1992," Kevin Igoe, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said yesterday.
The current 4th District seat was created in 1972 and was held by Republican Marjorie Holt until she retired in 1986.
McMillen handily won election to his third term by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent. But Republicans were heartened by the challenge mounted by Duckworth, a novice politician who was outspent, $340,000 to $42,000.
Duckworth lent his campaign $33,000 and built much of his challenge around the generosity bestowed upon McMillen. A millionaire retired from professional basketball, McMillen regularly places at or near the top in campaign fund raising among Maryland's congressional delegation.
When the 1990 campaign ended, McMillen had $374,000 left in the bank, more than any other state representative.
McMillen beat Republican challenger Brad McClanahan -- a fluke primary winner spurned by his own party -- by a 2-to-1 margin in 1988. But he has been haunted by the prospect of a serious contender since 1986, when he beat Republican Robert R. Neall -- now the county executive -- by only 428 votes.
Duckworth said he hopes to raise between $200,000 and $300,000 for 1992.
Despite his criticism of perpetual fund raising, Duckworth said he saw nothing unseemly about running so early for the next election.
"In 1990, I had a four-month campaign and that was to my disadvantage," said Duckworth, former president of the Crofton Civic Association. "It's time to get my message out so they can have a choice in 1992."
The campaign schedule will be accelerated for everyone in this election cycle, since the primary election has been moved from Sept. 11 to March 10.
"We're not going to comment on anything in the 1992 election until the primary, which is a year away," Brad Fitch, McMillen's spokesman, said yesterday.
In the meantime, Duckworth won a prominent platform to keep his name in the news this month when the state GOP named him federal issues spokesman.
He met on Capitol Hill yesterday with Gilchrest and Representative Helen Bentley, R-2nd, and later issued a press release endorsing President George Bush's call to eliminate campaign contributions from political action committees.
But Duckworth broke with the president last week when he issued a press release saying Bush made a mistake three weeks ago in canceling the Navy's A-12 attack jet.
The project was intended to replace the 28-year-old generation of Navy Intruder jets at a cost of $52 billion. The program included a radar sub-contract believed to be worth more than $1 billion and 1,200jobs to Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum.
Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney ordered the plane scrapped due to developmental cost overruns and delays that government auditors charge were covered up by the main contractors, McDonnell Douglas Corp. and General Dynamics Corp.
Their $4.8 billion contract to launch a prototype was more than $1 billion over budget and a year behind its July target date.
"In terms of boondoggle, that makes good news, but we're not talking about that," said Duckworth, a retired urban affairs analyst with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development."We're talking about the safety and security of the United States and we're talking about 1,200 jobs in Anne Arundel County."
AlthoughCheney reaffirmed that the Navy Intruder jet eventually will have tobe replaced, Pentagon officials earlier this month described cancellation of the A-12 project as part of the general slowdown in defense spending.
"It's interesting that the spokesman for the Republicansis criticizing the Republican president and the secretary of defense," Fitch said.
McMillen met with Westinghouse officials two weeks ago to explore the possibility of the company salvaging its part of the A-12 project when the Pentagon makes a decision on how to replace the Intruders.