On the campaign trail, Don DeArmon is hoping to walk his way to Congress

December 14, 1993|By Christopher Wilson | Christopher Wilson,Capital News Service

WASHINGTON -- For a guy who's running for Congress, Don DeArmon is doing a lot of walking.

So far, Mr. DeArmon, 38, has hiked 110 miles along Garrett, Allegany and Washington County roads, meeting voters in Maryland's 6th Congressional District.

The Frederick resident hopes that his trek across the district -- which also includes Frederick and Carroll counties and parts of Howard and Montgomery counties -- will help him clinch the Democratic nomination in the 1994 race for Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's seat.

On a typical Saturday or Sunday, he'll trudge about 15 miles with a "DeArmon for Congress" sign on his backpack.

"I usually get about four or five car honks; people wave," he said. "The whole point of the campaign is trying to let voters know who you are. The walk was just a natural way of doing that."

Mr. DeArmon, an aide to Rep. David E. Price, a North Carolina Democrat, began his cross-county trek Oct. 12 in Redhouse, about 10 miles southwest of Oakland in Garrett County.

He plans to have walked 225 miles when he reaches Ellicott City in Howard County sometime next month.

Mr. DeArmon said the people he meets during his walks have been supportive.

Last month, while he was slogging through rain and 40-degree temperatures on a Washington County road, two truckloads of hunters pulled alongside him.

"They asked me if I was walking all the way to Washington," Mr. DeArmon said. "I said, 'No, just to Ellicott City.' They said, 'Well, you've got our vote.' "

During another DeArmon ramble, between Cumberland and Frostburg, a woman gave him a rain poncho. He started to explain to her who he was. "She said, 'I know, I heard about you on the radio,' " Mr. DeArmon recalled.

Lance Copsey, political director for the Maryland Republican Party, said the walk seemed "kind of odd." But, he added, "I guess it's one way to get to the voter."

Ralph Gervasio, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party, applauded the walk.

"That is the perfect strategy," he said. "Western Maryland is very provincial. They want to see somebody. They want to touch somebody."

Mr. DeArmon is bucking convention in other ways.

He pledged to refuse to accept money from political action committees.

"If you take a high percentage of your contributions from special interest groups, it's common sense that it's going to influence the way you vote," Mr. DeArmon said. "I don't want to have my hands tied."

He said he has received more than $15,000 in individual contributions. He also said he doubts that his refusal of PAC money will hurt his campaign.

"I don't have any consultants," he said. "I don't have a headquarters. I just have to spend less money than everyone else."

This is his second bid for Congress. In 1980, when he was 24

and living in Bel Air, Mr. DeArmon ran for Maryland's 1st District seat, losing to Roy Dyson in the primary. Mr. Dyson went on to win the seat.

"I got 32 percent of the vote in a two-man primary," Mr. DeArmon said. "I did the best I could."

Mr. DeArmon has been a congressional staffer since 1977, when he graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a degree in American history.

He worked for then-Rep. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, from 1977 to 1978; for Rep. Les AuCoin, an Oregon Democrat, from 1978 to 1979; and for House Information Systems, a computer support group for House members, from 1981 to 1986. He has worked for Mr. Price since 1987.

Mr. DeArmon said that Mr. Bartlett is "out of step" with the rest of the Maryland delegation, citing the congressman's votes this year against the reauthorization of the National Institutes of Health and the transportation funding bills.

"We have an NIH facility in Fort Detrick and the transportation appropriations bill contained money for MARC [Maryland Rail Commuter Service] trains," Mr. DeArmon said.

Mr. Bartlett defended his votes.

"Every appropriations bill has something worthwhile in it, but there's also a lot of excessive pork," he said. "You can't fight deficit spending with excessive pork."

Galen Clagett, a former Frederick County commissioner, and Neil Dhillon of Cumberland are also vying for the Democratic nomination. The primary is Sept. 13.

Larry Hogan Sr., a former congressman and Prince George's County executive, has said he will challenge Mr. Bartlett in the Republican primary.

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