ANNAPOLIS -- Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, three-term lawmaker from Anne Arundel County, mounted an anti-Washington campaign yesterday to capture the 1st District congressional seat, a quest that includes primary opposition, vast new terrain and a possible duel with a fellow congressman.
"This congressional district needs a representative who is willing to buck the system," declared the 39-year-old Democrat, "someone who will champion your cause against the special interests, and someone who is even willing to go against his own party leaders to effectively represent you in Washington." He was surrounded by local lawmakers and officials, including State Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.
Starting a three-day, 13-stop campaign swing in the new district -- much of which is now represented by Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st -- Mr. McMillen vowed to protect Maryland jobs, boost the country's education system and work toward affordable health care. Besides part of Anne Arundel County, the newly configured 1st District includes the nine counties of the Eastern Shore and a portion of Baltimore.
In a prepared address spiced with references to the "Washington establishment" and "the power brokers," the congressman said he backed the Persian Gulf War, congressional term limits and the balanced budget amendment, all opposed by the Democratic leadership.
The congressman also provided two pages of his "key accomplishments," including a claim that he "led the fight" to protect 9,000 acres at Fort Meade for wildlife purposes.
Despite his anti-establishment pronouncements, Mr. McMillen has led the Maryland congressional delegation in political action committee (PAC) donations, with $1.1 million since his 1986 election, according to Common Cause. And last year he supported the Democratic Party's position on 92 percent of his votes, according to Congressional Quarterly.
Asked how these statistics accord with his claims of independence from special interests and party politics, Mr. McMillen said he favored campaign finance reform measures that included caps on spending and PAC donations. He also repeated his several votes against the Democratic leadership.
The congressman's claim of a lead role in preserving the land at Fort Meade failed to mention the key role played by Representative Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th. It was Mr. Hoyer, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who placed the land transfer on spending legislation, thereby assuring that the land would transfer to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mr. McMillen faces a March 3 primary against Delegates John C. Astle of Annapolis and Samuel Q.Johnson III of Salisbury. Other Democratic candidates include James Brown, a Caroline County drug treatment worker; Tony Mamet, a retired Ocean City auctioneer; and Annapolis Alderman Ellen Moyer, who said she may bow out in light of Mr. McMillen's entry.
While some of these candidates may feel pressures to drop out -- from either Democratic Party leaders or Mr. McMillen -- to provide the congressman a better shot at the nomination, Mr. Astle said yesterday, "my inclination is not to get out." He said Mr. McMillen had requested a meeting with him.
Mr. Johnson, the top vote getter in his Salisbury-area district, said those suggesting he leave the race are "wasting their time." He recalled being told by a Smith Islander to stay in the race "no matter how high the tide gets."
Mr. McMillen is a skilled fund-raiser with some $500,000 in campaign reserves, and he is expected easily to outspend his rivals. But an unanswered question is whether he can capture enough Eastern Shore votes from Mr. Johnson to prevail. About 60 percent of the new district is on the Shore.
Representative Gilchrest was cast into the district with Mr. McMillen during recent congressional redistricting. Mr. Gilchrest will face Lisa G. Renshaw, a conservative Anne Arundel County businesswoman, in the GOP primary.
During redistricting, the majority of the state congressional delegation urged Mr. McMillen to accept a district that combined Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore. But the congressman balked, sources said, convinced that the area leaned toward the Republican Party and fearing that he could only survive by making a conservative shift in his moderate voting record.