WASHINGTON -- In seeking her third six-year term in the Senate, Barbara A. Mikulski has drawn opposition only from political novices in the Republican Party and a Democratic primary challenge from a little-known activist for men's rights.
Those battling for the GOP nomination include a Baltimore lawyer and former senior aide to then-Gov. Harry R. Hughes, a Democrat; the founder of an Ellicott City software company; a geriatrics specialist who heads his department at a Baltimore hospital; and a Baltimore County contractor. The filing deadline for candidates in the Sept. 15 primary is Monday.
Only one of the Republicans has rented a campaign office. None has held elected office. None has much in the way of campaign funds, staff, volunteers or endorsements. They uniformly say they are fed up with high taxes, excessive government regulation and social programs, and the decline in the quality of public schools.
They also contend that they can succeed in a race that was avoided by better-known, better-heeled contenders.
"She's colorful and different," acknowledges Republican candidate George W. Liebmann, the lawyer and former Hughes aide. "But politics is not a branch of the entertainment business. I think the public is turned off by the modus operandi of Senator Mikulski."
Mikulski, the four assert, has alienated people with a partisan, pork-barrel approach to legislating.
Even so, with the economy booming, this is considered a tough year to challenge a sitting lawmaker.
"It's very difficult to pick off incumbents on both sides of the aisle," says Michael Russell, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, which distributes money to GOP candidates it considers good prospects. The committee is not expected to send much money to Maryland this fall.
During three decades in politics, Mikulski has proved to be an able vote-getter.
In 1992, she received more votes than anyone in Maryland history when she claimed her second Senate term with 71 percent of the ballots cast in her contest with Alan L. Keyes, a former State Department aide under President Ronald Reagan. Keyes undermined his campaign with a series of tactical blunders.
Mikulski's early fund raising might also have scared off potential opponents. She has announced a goal of least $3 million for this race and appears well on her way to reaching it. As of March 31, she had collected $1.8 million and spent nearly $1 million, campaign records show.
The prospects of the GOP candidates are further clouded by their inexperience and lack of name recognition.
Registered for the race
The main contenders are, in alphabetical order, Dr. Michael Gloth, 42, of Finksburg, the boyish-looking chief of geriatrics at Union Memorial Hospital; Liebmann, 59; Thomas L. Scott Jr., 52, a Baltimore County contractor; and Kenneth L. Wayman II, 51, who served briefly in Vietnam and has an Ellicott City software company.
Also registered for the race are Bradlyn McClanahan, a perennial GOP candidate, and two others -- Barry Steve Asbury of Parkville and John Taylor of Crofton, who have made no visible effort to win the office other than paying the $290 filing fee.
The Democratic challenger is Kauko H. Kokkonen, a 60-year-old Finnish immigrant and longtime Maryland public transit worker who says he wants to promote men's rights, particularly the rights of fathers. In recent years, he has filed lawsuits and complaints against Goucher and Hood colleges, the Democratic National Committee and the Greater Baltimore YWCA, all on the grounds that they unfairly discriminate against men.
Of the four Republicans putting on any kind of campaign, Liebmann may be the best known. He arrived in Maryland as a clerk to the chief justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1963 and later in the 1960s served as an assistant Maryland attorney general.
Warned of S&L crisis
An accomplished lawyer who earned degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago, Liebmann gained a modest celebrity in the mid-1980s after the Maryland savings-and-loan industry plunged into crisis; it emerged that he had written several memos warning Hughes, then governor, that such a catastrophe appeared imminent.
Although Liebmann has scheduled a $100-a-person fund-raiser this summer, he has limited his campaigning until recently to talking with friends, meeting with editorial boards of smaller newspapers and faxing to reporters position papers taking Mikulski to task for various votes.
He says he has raised $20,000 and expects to receive sufficient money to beat Mikulski once he wins the primary.
"There were various things I wanted to say," Liebmann says by way of explaining his run, "and this seems to be a good way to say them."
Liebmann switched parties a decade ago, partly because of his frustration with the Democrats' approach to the problems of public schools, he says.