A Comeback Tale Campaign 1994 -- Congress 6th District

November 06, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

In the first three months of his freshman year, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett looked like a man trying to work himself out of a job.

First, he made a remark that offended Asian-Americans. Then, after the Blizzard of 1993, he did not sign a letter requesting federal disaster aid for Maryland. Two weeks after that, his congressional office erupted amid charges that his chief aide had inappropriate physical contact with female staffers.

By summer 1993, the scientist turned citizen legislator looked vulnerable, and fellow Republicans were circling.

In his second year, however, Mr. Bartlett has avoided public gaffes and rebounded. In May, he scored a public relations coup by embarrassing the White House over a taxpayer-funded golf trip to Frederick County.

Some political observers now say he stands a good chance of winning a second term Tuesday to represent the state's 6th District, which includes Western Maryland, Carroll County and much of Howard County.

Standing in his way is former state Del. Paul D. Muldowney, a Democrat known in the past for his sharp tongue and tough campaigning style. After two failed races for the State House in 1986 and 1990, the 59-year-old businessman is waging a comeback attempt of his own while trying to portray the incumbent as ineffective.

Mr. Muldowney has struggled to raise campaign funds this fall, however, making it harder for him to get his message out. Since late August, Mr. Bartlett has raised more than twice as much as Mr. Muldowney has, money that has allowed the congressman to advertise on television and radio while Mr. Muldowney has had to rely more on local newspapers and direct mail to reach voters.

"I would be surprised if Muldowney pulls it off at this point," said state Del. Thomas H. Hattery, the Democrat who lost to Mr. Bartlett in the last general election, in 1992. "I think it hasn't reached enough of a fever pitch to really break through people's consciousness."

Image and personality

Over the past seven weeks, the candidates have defined themselves more in terms of image and personality than on issues. The earnest, soft-spoken Mr. Bartlett, 68, wears suspenders and carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution in the breast pocket of his jacket. Mr. Muldowney, who co-owns a concrete-block company in Hagerstown, is a gregarious political street-fighter with an earthy sense of humor.

Both are conservatives, and both oppose abortion and gun control, but they disagree on how to reform the health care system and reduce the deficit. Lacking major philosophical differences with Mr. Bartlett, Mr. Muldowney has tried to pick away at the incumbent's voting record. He cites Mr. Bartlett's opposition to some funding for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as evidence of ideological extremism.

Pride in 'no' votes

Mr. Bartlett, who believes fervently in reducing the size of government, said he voted against appropriations for those programs' administrative costs, not the actual payments to citizens. He believes government needs to cut bureaucracy wherever it can, and he wears his "no" votes like so many medals.

"I vote no, no, no, because the bills are wrong, wrong, wrong," Mr. Bartlett said. "If your agenda is to return to a government which is less invasive and pervasive and taxes less and spends less, there's not a heck of a lot you can vote yes on in a Congress like this."

And when it comes to voting, Mr. Bartlett says, his opponent shouldn't throw stones. During his two terms in the State House, Mr. Muldowney missed 1,888 votes, about 13 percent of the total cast from 1979 to 1987, he said.

"That's the equivalent of missing a whole legislative session," Mr. Bartlett said. "You can't be effective if you aren't voting."

Mr. Muldowney, regarded by many as an effective legislator, does not dispute missing the votes. He says he missed them because he served on conference committees in which lawmakers from both houses hashed out differences between bills even while the rest of the General Assembly was voting on other matters.

"Roscoe doesn't understand this, because he doesn't participate," Mr. Muldowney said. "He's never been on a conference committee in his life."

An analysis by the state Department of Legislative Reference suggests that Mr. Muldowney's past voting record is on par with legislators today. The department estimates that delegates during the last General Assembly missed, on average, about 15 percent of the votes.

Mr. Bartlett attributes part of his political turnaround to the increased care he takes in choosing his words. He said new staffers also have helped him learn the ways of a town where one day's offhand remark can become tomorrow morning's headline.

So it was in early 1993 when he wondered aloud at a Maryland congressional delegation meeting why a list of science scholarship winners, who were largely Asian-American, didn't have more "normal names."

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