Mike Hickey, the Democrat challenging entrenched Republican Helen Delich Bentley in the 2nd Congressional District, could have gotten an idea of what he was up against at the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce 1992 banquet.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer delivered remarks that included effusive, lengthy praise of Mrs. Bentley, who was in the audience. He talked of her work for the port, of her international reputation.
Finally, he pointed in her general direction, lowered his head and said, "I'm a Democrat, so all I can say is, vote for her."
When you don't have much money to spend, you're running in a new district and the nominal leader of your own party endorses your heavily favored Republican opponent, you might think it's time to throw in the towel.
But nothing seems to dampen Mr. Hickey's upbeat enthusiasm.
"I'm in this race to win," he insisted during an interview in the storefront offices of his law firm, located on U.S. 40 in Harford County.
In another district, the Democratic apparatus might crank into high gear for a candidate with Mr. Hickey's credentials. He's a Vietnam-era Marine veteran, still active in the Reserves, who can wave the flag with the best of them. But he spouts progressive policies that some might dare call liberal.
He has a detailed health-care plan that calls for insurance companies to bid to become the sole provider for a single region made up of several states. He would also require hospitals in each region to coordinate their purchases.
Mr. Hickey would take responsibility for health-care financing away from employers and give it to the government, financed in part by the savings he says his plan would generate and then by a national sales tax. He claims that the reduced costs to employers would lower the price of their goods, making them more competitive on the export market.
He wants tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment, money that would come out of the defense budget.
"Cancel the B-2 bomber," he says. "It should never have been built."
He also wants cuts in programs such as the huge atom smasher now under construction and NASA's space station.
"Fine things to do when times are good, but right now we have to put people back to work," he says.
He's pro-choice, and supports the family-leave and child-care bills that Mrs. Bentley joined the Bush administration in opposing. He thinks anti-flag-burning amendments are ridiculous. Indeed, his politics don't fit the stereotype of someone who joined the Marines right out of LaSalle University in 1969.
"I know, we're supposed to be right-wing crazies," he said with a laugh. "But I'll tell you, all my positions come right out of my Marine experience.
"We were taught that, first, you accomplish your mission and, second, you take care of your people. We're not doing either one in this country right now."
The Baltimore native, a father of three, ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Roy P. Dyson in the Democratic primary for the 1st District seat two years ago.
Then, in the recent round of re-districting, his home in Harford County was moved from the 1st District to the 2nd.
So, instead of facing the prospect of challenging first-term Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest, Mr. Hickey had to consider a race against Mrs. Bentley -- who has turned back all challengers since her 1984 defeat of Democrat Clarence Long.
Mr. Hickey claims to be unimpressed.
"I know she has this reputation of doing all these things for her district, but when I started looking into it, I found that wasn't the case," he said, spouting statistics about unemployment, job losses and port tonnage to back his case.
Mrs. Bentley casts a wary and weary eye out from across her cluttered desk in her crowded Towson offices as she contemplates such charges.
She reels off her own list of accomplishments, millions upon millions of dollars in federal contracts and funding that she says she has brought to her district.
"And every one of those means jobs," she said.
Sure, times are tough, she added, but they would be a lot tougher in the 2nd District if she hadn't been in Washington.
She sees no contradiction in calling for trimming the fat in government and bragging about bringing home the bacon.
"No, those projects were out there, and we should get our share of them," she said. "I have no apologies for that."
Mrs. Bentley said that four years ago she proposed her solution to the budget crisis -- a total freeze on the federal budget.
"They told us it couldn't be done. I think even the people hurt by it would have supported it as long as they knew it was fair. Now the head of the budget committee is talking about it," she said. "I told him he was four years and a trillion and a half dollars too late."
She supports Bush administration policies on health care, family leave, and most other areas. But she sounds more like Democratic nominee Bill Clinton, or even Ross Perot, on trade issues. She says she's prepared to lead the fight against the Mexico free-trade treaty.