As a 73-year-old retiree, Colin F. Harby is the kind of voter who might be drawn to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin - especially given the congressman's positions to use the budget surplus to shore up Social Security and to have Medicare cover prescription drugs.
But instead of supporting Cardin, Harby is running against the seven-term incumbent in Maryland's 3rd Congressional District.
The race is a reprise of Harby's quest for the seat two years ago in his first try for elective office, a one-sided contest that Cardin won over the Republican by a margin of nearly 4-to-1.
Cardin, a well-known political veteran who was speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates before his first successful run for Congress in 1986, had $456,831 in his campaign account, his most recent finance report shows; Harby has less than $1,000.
One thing they have in common is that neither faced any primary opposition this year.
"Everyone thinks Cardin's a shoo-in, so why run against him?" says Harby, taking time out from cranking out his latest position paper on a home computer in his Southeast Baltimore rowhouse near Patterson Park.
Harby, who worked for years as a design engineer, gives a number of reasons, ranging from the need for competition to the opposition by Cardin and his fellow Democrats to tax cuts.
"Cardin's not doing his job, not the least," says Harby. "We've been paying him all this money since 1986. What's he done?"
A lot, says Cardin, 57, the sixth-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Besides his advocacy on behalf of Medicare and Social Security, Cardin notes his support of legislation to provide money for the Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls and Herring Run watersheds, and his sponsorship of a pending pension reform measure that would allow workers to save more money for retirement.
"I've been active on tax issues, health care issues, environmental issues," Cardin says. "My district is pretty much in tune with my positions on these issues."
The 3rd District is one of the most irregularly drawn in the state. It goes from Columbia, through eastern Howard and southwestern Baltimore counties, with a sliver of western Anne Arundel, up through Southeast Baltimore and along the city's northern edge, then ballooning out toward Owings Mills.
Several voters along the northern Baltimore city-county line say they think highly of Cardin, though they didn't identify him with any specific issue.
In Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County, Joseph Hopkins has a red-white-and-blue sign on his lawn touting the "Maryland Democratic Team": Al Gore for president, Paul Sarbanes for Senate and Cardin for Congress.
"I'm backing the Democratic Party because I'm for their stand on major issues - gun control, abortion and the environment," says Hopkins, a 35-year-old outdoor recreational equipment salesman.
At the York Road Plaza shopping center just over the city line, Sue Geary says she plans to split her ticket. Geary, a 72-year-old resident of Homeland in North Baltimore, says she'll vote for Cardin for Congress but George W. Bush for president, noting Gore's support of Clinton.
Even some of those who dislike Cardin's politics say his is a formidable presence.
"He seems too liberal for me," says Joe Welsh, 75, a retired stockbroker from Pinehurst. "But I recognize that that he has a very strong constituency in the district."
Asked whether he knows who Cardin's challenger is, Welsh, a registered Republican, ventures a guess. "Rappaport?" he says, referring to Paul H. Rappaport, the Republican candidate for Senate.
Told it is Colin Harby, he acknowledges that he has never heard of him.
Harby blames his low name recognition in part on lack of support from the Maryland Republican Party.
Suzanne Knighton, a staff member for the state GOP in Annapolis, says the party would like to support all Republicans, but adds: "We have to put our resources where we think they'd be most effective."
Undaunted, Harby, who entered the 1998 race after watching a television news show on the congressional election, says he works every day on position papers ranging from the budget surplus ("There is a need to lower ... taxes.") to farm economies ("Family farms should be offered more protection from confiscation").
As for his re-election bid, Cardin says, "I don't really look at who's running against me. That's up to the Republicans."
If the big question about Harby is who he is, the main question about Cardin is where he's going.
Should the Democrats win control of the House, and Cardin again win his seat, he is in line for a Ways and Means subcommittee chairmanship, either the human resources or Social Security panel.
He's also been mentioned as a potential candidate for governor in 2002 - speculation he sidesteps. "I don't believe it will be meaningful for me to look beyond this election," he says.