ANNAPOLIS -- After vehemently defending his right to take a salary of $8,500 a month from campaign contributions, U.S. Senate candidate Alan L. Keyes now says he is reconsidering.
Despite what he called "the palpable injustice involved," Mr. Keyes said he might forgo the salary, which has become grist for Maryland talk shows and other critics.
But Mr. Keyes said he is in the race to stay, whatever the criticism or cost. "I would rather bankrupt my family than live any longer with policies and views that are bankrupting my country, morally as well as financially," he said in a news release.
"I will campaign against [incumbent Democratic Sen.] Barbara Mikulski on foot in the streets and sleep in homeless shelters if I have to, but I will not give up," he said.
Mr. Keyes has said he needs a salary to support his family while campaigning. Challengers must be accorded some means of contesting incumbents, he contends, and using campaign funds is justifiable.
Others were not persuaded.
Even the Maryland Republican Party's executive director, Joyce L. Terhes, has disavowed the practice of using campaign funds for an $8,500-a-month salary.
The contributions-as-pay issue immediately cost Mr. Keyes the support of Michael Jennings, a 32-year-old father of three in Glen Burnie who voted for Mr. Keyes in 1986 when he ran against Maryland Democratic Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.
"I called his headquarters and they asked me if I would feel any better if I knew his mortgage was $4,100 a month? It makes me feel worse. My house payment is not anywhere near that nor would it ever be. Mine is closer to $500," he said.
Mr. Keyes' monthly housing expenses, including maintenance, actually approach $5,000, said Sean Paige, Mr. Keyes' campaign spokesman. He said people should remember that the candidate bought his house while working in the private sector and making a large salary.
In 1991 and the first two months of 1992, according to a financial disclosure statement filed with the secretary of the U.S. Senate, Mr. Keyes reported that he was paid $187,500 as president of a group called Citizens Against Government Waste. He also earned $97,650 for speeches and articles he wrote. He owned stock valued at between $1,000 and $15,000.
"He's not living anywhere near like the average American citizen is," said Mr. Jennings, a carpet cleaner. "What kind of a guy would sign a mortgage like that? Wouldn't it be better to buy a modest house and bank the money?"
Callers to WBAL-AM radio were similarly critical yesterday. Talk-show host Alan Prell said only two of about 10 callers tried to defend Mr. Keyes.
In Salisbury, of 40 to 50 people who participated in a viewer poll conducted Monday night by WMDT, 65 percent opposed the use of campaign funds to pay a candidate's salary. But Mr. Paige said most callers to Keyes campaign headquarters were supportive.
Mary D. Janetatos of Silver Spring sent the candidate $250 and has no objection to its use as salary for the candidate. She said she finds Mr. Keyes "straightforward, honest, deep-thinking and dynamic."