At 73, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett has a snappy reply to questions about how long he'd like to remain a member of Congress.
"I'm young enough to be Strom Thurmond's son," he said, referring to the 96-year old U.S. senator from South Carolina.
Bartlett, a conservative Republican known for his contentious stands -- such as his bill to ban sales of girlie magazines on military bases -- is looking for a fifth term representing Western Maryland's six-county 6th District, and he isn't saying when he'll stop running. Maryland's primary election is March 7.
"It's one day at a time," he said, adding that his family is noted for longevity.
"I expect to be around for a while. We've just begun cutting government, cutting spending, and cutting regulation and taxes."
Most observers agree that another two-year term is likely for the Frederick congressman, but some odd things have happened in the 6th District over the years, and no one knows that better than Roscoe Bartlett.
Twenty-two years ago, Goodloe Byron, the district's marathon-running Democratic incumbent -- a shoo-in for re-election -- died of a heart attack less than a month before the 1978 general election, leaving Melvin Perkins, a disheveled Baltimore perennial candidate and official pauper, the official Republican candidate.
The congressman's widow, Beverly B. Byron, stepped in and won the seat, keeping it until 1992.
That year, she also was considered a shoo-in for re-election to her seventh term but lost a shocker in the Democratic primary. In November 1992, Bartlett, a novice in his third long-shot campaign for Congress, won the seat.
"Once in a while, lightning strikes," he said.
This year, five hopefuls are waiting for a similar thunderbolt.
Four little-known, lightly financed Democrats are vying in the primary for the chance to run for Bartlett's seat.
John Ewald , 36, of Savage is a teacher at Takoma Park Middle School in Montgomery County.
Born in Flintstone, in Allegany County, he had been thinking of running for five years, and for a novice he's not doing too badly, winning the endorsement of the Columbia Democratic Club.
He's active in teacher groups and said he has strong contacts in the Methodist church community.
"I felt like I was being called to public service," he said. "This is a four-year race for me. If we don't succeed, we will be back in 2002."
Donald D. DeArmon, 44, of Frederick is a career Capitol Hill staffer who ran for Congress in 1994. He has raised the most money by far among the Democratic candidates, with more than $50,000 reported by Dec. 31. That will enable him to solicit voters by mail just before the election, he said, giving him an edge over the other Democrats, none of whom reported raising the minimum reportable amount of $5,000 by then.
"There's too much partisanship going on," he told a sparse crowd at a League of Women Voters' candidates forum Wednesday at Howard County school board headquarters. Bartlett "has an extreme, anti-government attitude. He's out of step with mainstream thinking."
Anthony J. "Tony" McGuffin, 47, of Ellicott City is a teacher, folk singer, former Volvo mechanic and former stage manager in Los Angeles. "I felt like I'm not being represented," he said. "The debate in Congress has deteriorated to being counterproductive."
During the forum, after Bartlett and his Republican challenger, Timothy R. Mayberry, praised states that allow people to legally carry concealed weapons as a way to discourage gun-toting criminals, McGuffin was incredulous.
"That's crazy, ridiculous," McGuffin said. "Wyatt Earp is rolling over in his grave."
The fourth Democrat is Walter E. Carson , 56, of Silver Spring, an attorney for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He and his wife are building a home in Lisbon in western Howard County.
Like most Democrats, he favors using the budget surplus to pay down the national debt before cutting taxes.
"I had always wanted to run for Congress," he said. "I needed to do it now rather than later. My sense is that the door is open for very interesting things to occur."
Mayberry, 43, of Boonsboro ran twice for Maryland comptroller, losing the 1994 Republican primary by eight votes. Until resigning this week, he was treasurer of the Maryland Republican Party.
People "are sick of the incumbent voting against his constituents," he said. "He voted to close Fort Ritchie."
Mayberry said Bartlett also has voted against bills containing money for flood and drought relief for Western Maryland.
Bartlett said he was not voting against his constituents but against huge, pork-filled omnibus appropriations bills.
They were "loaded with pork," he said. The district's economy, though less robust than in Central Maryland, is improving, the congressman said. "We're headed in the right direction," he said.
What are the chances that Bartlett, with $431,000 on hand at the end of December, will lose?
"What are the chances of an asteroid striking New York?" said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican.
Not everyone dismisses Mayberry's chances. "Tim's a hard worker, a good young man," said Helen Delich Bentley, a moderate Republican and former 2nd District congresswoman. "He's no slouch. I think it's going to be a very interesting race."
Waiting in the wings is Carroll County's conservative Republican state Sen. Larry E. Haines , who said he wanted to run in 1992 but thought Beverly Byron couldn't lose. He considered running again this year, noting that Bartlett has always supported term limits but isn't limiting himself. "Roscoe now wants to be Strom Thurmond," Haines said last summer.
Haines said Republican leaders persuaded him to back off, fearful of risking a seat in the GOP battle to maintain a majority in Congress. He hopes to try in 2002, after redistricting.