Although she's campaigning in friendly territory against an underfinanced opponent, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, takes the March 3 Maryland primary seriously.
"There's still a move to throw the rascals out," she said. "The rascals can be anybody. I have to be prepared."
Actually, Mrs. Bentley's toughest re-election battle may have been fought last fall, when she preserved most of the district despite attempts by the state's Democratic leadership to carve Baltimore County into five pieces and throw her into the same district with Eastern Shore Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st.
With help from Gov. William Don- ald Schaefer and others among Mrs. Bentley's political friends, much of the existing 2nd District was preserved. It now includes 370,268 people in eastern and northern Baltimore County, all of Harford's 182,132 residents, and 45,000 people in a small portion of Anne Arundel County around Gibson Island.
Robert T. Petr, 49, Mrs. Bentley's only GOP primary opponent, isn't actively campaigning and expects to spend less than $1,000 of his own money, while Mrs. Bentley has more than $250,000 stashed away in her campaign fund.
Mr. Petr's Parkville home and insurance business are actually now in the new 3rd Congressional District, but candidates for Congress need not live where they run.
The five Democratic candidates vying for their party's nomination for the 2nd District seat are all low-budget political unknowns, although several have run for office once before.
Still, Mrs. Bentley, at 68, has a firm grip on political reality. It took her three hard-fought campaigns to win office, finally defeating 22-year incumbent Democrat Clarence D. Long in 1984. And she is keenly aware that 1990 was not kind to incumbents, especially in Baltimore County, where an incumbent county executive and five County Council members were thrown out by aroused voters.
She has been playing to her strengths, supporting the port of Baltimore and the blue-collar steel and auto industries in the eastern part of Baltimore County, with an escalation of her traditional Japan-bashing.
Mrs. Bentley is far better financed than are any of her challengers. She had $262,651 in cash on hand Dec. 31, and has a $500 per-ticket fund-raiser scheduled in Washington Feb. 26, according to her campaign manager, Thomas K. O'Neill.
Three of the five Democratic candidates are from the Harford County portion of the district, and one, attorney Michael C. Hickey Jr., ran once before. In 1990, he finished last among four candidates in the Eastern Shore-dominated 1st Congressional District.
Of the two Baltimore County-based Democratic hopefuls, Cornelius U. Morgan, 69, of Carney is running as a follower of jailed political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche. Mr. Morgan, a retired Aberdeen Proving Ground worker, ran unsuccessfully in the 1990 primary.
James E. DeLoach, 26, an entrepreneur from eastern Baltimore County, is in his first race for elective office. Mr. DeLoach said he already has had several jobs, including a Baltimore Sun distributorship, a limousine service using his 1969 Cadillac limousine, a 10-acre Christmas tree farm in Western Maryland, and a real-estate practice.
Mr. DeLoach said he actually got his political start as a volunteer for Mrs. Bentley in 1983 when he was a Perry Hall High School senior. He said he plans to spend "at least $5,000" on his primary campaign, including a few radio ads.
He said he wants to cut the federal defense budget in half and use the money to spur the economy with low-interest business loans, to improve education, and to pay for continued space and "Star Wars" research. Mr. DeLoach also would push for a national sales tax to replace other taxes, including the income tax.
Paul D. Raschke, 36, an attorney from Bel Air, one of the Harford-based Democratic candidates, promises to improve the economy and criticizes Mrs. Bentley's leadership. He works for the Maryland Casualty Co. and is active in the Maryland State Bar Association.
Joseph John Bish Jr., 34, also of Bel Air, another first-time candidate, said he's concerned about the poor economy from a personal perspective, because some of his friends have lost jobs. As an athletic coach in schools around the area, he said, he's worried about the job outlook for the teen-agers with whom he's worked in Dundalk and other hard-pressed areas. He said he has been campaigning vigorously since July 1991: "I've spoken to 5,000 people, 100 clubs and civic groups, and I have 250 volunteers."
Mr. Bish said he'd push to modernize the Bethlehem Steel shipyard to attract new contracts, persuade General Motors to build a new assembly plant in the district to replace the old one on Broening Highway and work with teaching hospitals to develop medically related industries.