When the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate took the stage at a forum last night at Anne Arundel Community College, there were 10 voters in the audience.
Earlier, when GOP candidates for Congress in the 2nd and 3rd Districts appeared, the crowd was maybe 20.
It was roughly the same turnout as at last week's first installment of the two-part effort by the Wednesday Republican Breakfast Club to acquaint Anne Arundel residents with those who would represent them in Congress, organizers said.
"It breaks my heart to look at this auditorium and not see the seats filled. . ." said Romie Allen Songer, 49, one of five Senate candidates to appear. Two others invited last night did not show. The other eight had their chance at last week's forum.
Del. John J. Bishop, R-Balto. Co., sent word that he was home with a high fever and the flu. The other, Herman J. Hannan, a 53-year-old Baltimore businessman, sent a friend to fill in, but offered no reason for his absence.
Other candidates who appeared were Del. Martha Klima, R-Balto. Co., and William H. Krenbrink, a self-described diesel truck mechanic and semiprofessional football player, perennial candidate Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont and L. Meredith of Queen Anne's County.
Counting four panelists asking questions, and one moderator, the candidates outnumbered the voters in the audience.
Mr. Songer said he hears people "whine" about lost jobs and the need for health insurance wherever he goes, "but they don't register to vote."
Incumbent Rep. Helen Delich Bentley R-2nd, perhaps said it best. "Voters are apathetic. We have not made it clear that voting is a privilege and a responsibility."
Mrs. Bentley's only opponent, Robert Petr, unveiled his plan for fixing the economy and some other proposals to the sparse crowd. He wants to make contributions to Social Security voluntary for people younger than 30, allowing them to save their money, or spend it on things that would benefit private business. He also would kill the federal departments of Education, Energy and Health and Human Services, and turn the $240 billion savings back into the economy.
Asked what "pork barrel" projects in Maryland he could identify as ripe for elimination, Mr. Petr was the only congressional candidate who admitted he believed there were such projects. He said he would eliminate $70 million worth of government contracts to Bethlehem Steel Corp., and the extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits that President Bush recently authorized, with congressional approval. "Dammed if I want to pay for it," the conservative Republican said.
The other candidates said they knew of no pork coming to Maryland, though they were sure of plenty going to other states.
Mark Kevin White, one of five GOP hopefuls seeking the party's nomination for the 3rd District seat in the March 3 primary, said that incumbent Democrat Benjamin Cardin is such a poor congressman that he "doesn't bring back pork, or anything else" from Washington. "I'm sick of people like Ben Cardin representing America in Congress," the Naval Academy graduate said.