Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski bounded up the steps to a stage full of union officials and local Democratic politicians and when the "Roll Out the Barrel" polka died down, she officially announced that she will run for a second term in the U.S. Senate.
Her announcement yesterday was made before about 1,200 people who paid $25 apiece to hear Mikulski at the Steelworkers Hall in Dundalk.
In her remarks, Mikulski said the middle class did not prosper as the rich did during 1980s, and middle-class workers don't qualify for government programs, such as student aid, which benefit the poor.
Her remedy is more government benefits and tax breaks aimed at the middle class, whom she called "my favorite endangered species."
She supports the tax-cut proposal of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas. Bentsen favors expanding individual retirement accounts, and using savings from the military budget into a $300 tax credit for each child under age 18.
Mikulski also wants to provide more student-aid benefits for middle-class college students. Currently, many are disqualified for student aid because their family incomes are too high.
"I want to say yes to those kids who say no, who say their prayers, go to school and do their homework," she said.
A staunch and faithful backer of organized labor, Mikulski vowed to work with government and industry to keep large manufacturing industries busy and employing people in Baltimore. "There are those who say manufacturing is dead. I say no," she said.
Mikulski was in the minority of senators voting against authorizing President Bush to make war on Iraq in January. As a gesture to veterans of the Persian Gulf and other wars, she vowed to push for better veterans benefits.
The biggest applause line of the speech, however, was her statement of continued support for legal abortions. "We have to stand up for awoman's right to choose," she shouted, and the people cheered and stomped their feet.
When asked afterward how this played with her traditional base of working-class supporters, many of whom are Roman Catholic, Mikulski said that they believed with her that abortion was an area where "the least government is the best government."
Nor apparently were those voters disappointed with her vote against the Persian Gulf War, even if they had family members serving in the military.
Valere Wilnoth, a community activist and supporter from O'Donnell Heights, which the senator represented in the City Council, explained Mikulski's appeal. "Barbara listens to the people," Wilnoth said.
"A lot of us are low-income. It's our boys that got sent over there," Wilnoth said. "You support your troops. You support your men. It doesn't mean you support the war. We learned that from Vietnam."
On abortion, Wilnoth said she opposed it personally but supported Mikulski's pro-choice stand because
of freedom of conscience and economic necessity.
So far, two Republicans have announced to run against Mikulski -- Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly and Stuart Hopkins, a consultant from Caroline County. Alan Keyes, who lost to Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes in 1986, is also considering a run.
Mikulski starts this campaign flush with money. As of the first six months of the year, she had $918,000 in her campaign war chest.
"She's combat-ready as of today," said Mike Morrill, her deputy campaign manager.