GOP's 'disappointment' with Bartlett increases Other Republicans weigh '94 bids

June 23, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Less than six months into his first term in Congress, Western Maryland Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is facing increasing criticism and the possibility of an election challenge from his own party next year.

At least four 6th District Republicans, including a former member of Congress who was co-chairman of Mr. Bartlett's 1992 campaign, are talking about running against him for the seat that he won back for the GOP last year after it spent 22 years in the hands of the Byron family.

Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., who represented the suburban Washington 5th District for three terms from 1969 to 1975, says he is "certainly leaning" toward challenging Mr. Bartlett in the September 1994 primary. He describes the 67-year-old freshman as a "real disappointment, very naive and over his head." Mr. Hogan, 64, who also served a term as Prince George's County executive, has lived in the Frederick area for the last 11 years. He was co-chairman of Mr. Bartlett's campaign last year.

State Sen. John W. Derr of Frederick County and former state Sen. John N. Bambacus of Allegany County say they are considering a challenge to Mr. Bartlett in the primary. And Carroll County state Sen. Larry E. Haines, whose office said he is on vacation this week, is talking of making a run, according to several 6th District Republicans.

A former Bartlett campaign aide said Mr. Haines would appeal to fundamentalist Christians, who formed an important part of Mr. Bartlett's base of support.

Melissa Cartano, Mr. Bartlett's current campaign manager, said GOP criticism is coming from people who decided not to run in 1992 but then regretted their decision after state Del. Thomas H. Hattery upset incumbent Beverly B. Byron in the Democratic primary, opening the way for the Bartlett victory in November. Mrs. Byron had held the seat since 1978, when she succeeded her late husband, Goodloe E. Byron, who was first elected to Congress in 1970.

"This is about what I anticipated," Ms. Cartano said of the Republican critics. "Republicans haven't learned how to win." She said Mr. Bartlett's constituents largely approve of his actions.

Joyce L. Terhes, head of the Maryland Republican Party, said in defense of Mr. Bartlett, "His voting record reflects the district beautifully."

GOP criticism of Mr. Bartlett focuses on a series of gaffes the congressman has made, on his congressional staff and, to a lesser extent, on his unyielding conservative ideology.

In his first few months in office, Mr. Bartlett offended Asians and other minorities by noting the high percentage of Westinghouse scholarship winners who didn't have "normal names." He later apologized for the comment.

He defended his chief aide, Timothy L. Woodford, after two female staff members accused the aide of "inappropriate behavior." He also disavowed a campaign pledge to leave Congress in four years if the deficit had not been cut by 50 percent.

And he refused to sign a letter from the Maryland congressional delegation asking for federal aid to clear snow from Western Maryland highways after the March blizzard.

Much of the criticism of Mr. Bartlett has focused on his staff's lack of Washington experience and on Mr. Woodford, who ran Mr. Bartlett's campaign and then came to Washington as his $90,000-a-year chief of staff. Some critics say Mr. Woodford is a heavy-handed gatekeeper.

The only two staffers with substantial Washington experience, James Lafferty, deputy chief of staff for policy and communication, and Debra Royal, Mr. Bartlett's legislative director, left in April. Ms. Royal departed after complaining of "inappropriate behavior" toward female staff members by Mr. Woodford.

Mr. Bartlett's voting record is generally conservative, and his rhetoric is largely conservative. Not only does he regularly criticize the Clinton administration, he is a frequent critic of Congress and of those who depend on the government for support.

Although members of Congress are considered most vulnerable to defeat in their first bid for re-election, it is unusual for a first-term congressman to be the target of a substantial challenge within his party, particularly when the incumbent's political philosophy seems to be in tune with much of his district.

Mr. Bartlett said Monday that he had no comment on a possible GOP challenge. Nor would he say whether he plans to run for re-election.

He held a fund-raiser at his farm south of Frederick last month. And this month he mailed a plea for campaign funds to supporters, noting that he and his wife are still owed $55,000 that they lent his last campaign. The letter, asking that contributions be sent "quickly," went to 1,000 former contributors and volunteers and will be followed shortly by other letters to different potential contributors, Ms. Cartano said.

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