Bartlett is looking stronger in 6th

December 19, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Though Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett is looking like a stronger candidate for re-election than he did six months ago, a former Republican congressman and an increasingly crowded field of Democrats are gearing up to challenge the Western Maryland freshman at the polls next year.

Mr. Bartlett got off to a rough start in Congress, prompting speculation that he would be an easy mark in the 1994 election. His early stumbles led several Republicans to consider challenging him next year.

Now, Joyce L. Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, says that former Rep. Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. is the only prospective GOP challenger of whom she knows. Making it clear that she believes Republican incumbents should not be challenged in the primary, she expressed doubt that Mr. Hogan will run, saying he has not attained the visibility expected of a candidate.

"That's wishful thinking," Mr. Hogan responded, saying that he "absolutely" plans to run, though several GOP members of Congress have asked him not to. At 65, two years younger than Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Hogan recently retired from his Frederick law practice to make the run.

Mr. Hogan represented a suburban Washington district in the House from 1969 to 1975 and served a term as Prince George's County executive. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1974 and for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 1982 before moving to Frederick County.

Mr. Hogan, who was Mr. Bartlett's campaign co-chairman in 1992, says he is running because he is convinced that Mr. Bartlett cannot be re-elected, a sentiment that is not universally shared across the 6th District, which sprawls from far western Garrett County to the Baltimore suburbs of Howard County.

Mr. Bartlett has "solidified his position in the last six months," said Rick Hemphill, vice chairman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee. "He's a far stronger candidate today than he was six months ago."

Added Thomas G. Slater, chairman of the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee, "I wouldn't underestimate his ability to get renominated and re-elected."

Mr. Bartlett was a surprise victor in November 1992 over Democratic nominee Thomas H. Hattery, who had engineered a stunning primary upset of Rep. Beverly B. Byron, Western Maryland's representative for 14 years. Mr. Hattery lost to his GOP rival despite his convincing primary victory and a substantially larger campaign treasury.

Mr. Bartlett's early months in office were marred by several gaffes and staff turmoil that included a controversy over whether his chief aide behaved appropriately toward women on the staff. Then, Mr. Bartlett replaced the chief aide in June and brought in Joe Karpinski, a veteran of Capitol Hill and the Bush administration who, say 6th District politicians, has improved the operation.

During his first year in Congress, Mr. Bartlett crafted the most conservative voting record in the Maryland delegation. He proudly points to high ratings awarded him by conservative organizations such as the Christian Coalition and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

His voting record seems to match district sentiments. George Bush handily won the 6th District last year, at a time when Maryland was giving Bill Clinton his widest margin of victory outside Arkansas.

Nevertheless, Democrats are lining up to challenge Mr. Bartlett, though none has emerged as a front-runner. With the filing deadline seven months away, three Democrats already are running, and others are in the wings. The September primary could easily include a half-dozen candidates.

"Anything can happen," said Del. Bruce Poole of Washington County, who lost his position of majority leader last week. "Anybody with a large family can win," he joked.

Mr. Poole, a Hagerstown lawyer serving his second House term, considered making the race but said he has decided instead to seek re-election. He makes it clear, though, that he may seek the seat in the future.

Mr. Hattery, a three-term state delegate from Frederick County, says he is leaning toward another run but hasn't decided. At mid-year, he still had a $57,445 campaign debt from 1992, including $46,800 that he lent to his own campaign.

He spent nearly $600,000 in 1992, nearly twice Mr. Bartlett's expenditures and, given the visibility that campaign afforded him, could be the best-known candidate, should he decide to run.

"You'd have to consider Tom Hattery, if he runs, as the front-runner," Mr. Slater said.

Other Democrats disagree, saying the hard-hitting primary campaign he waged against Mrs. Byron left a bitter taste with many, including some of his supporters, that would make it difficult for him to win the nomination again. Republicans and Democrats alike say Mr. Bartlett's victory a year ago was due in large measure to support from disaffected Byron Democrats. Mr. Hattery says the resentment comes largely from people who "are mad because they were part of the in-crowd, and I took that away from them."

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