WASHINGTON – While presidential contenders accuse each other of being “Washington insiders,” Maryland Senate candidate John Stafford is hoping the label will see him to victory.
Stafford drops a lot of big Washington names, Republican and Democrat alike, and says if he calls in support from those friends and colleagues he can win the nomination next week and unseat Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, this fall.
“I’m a serious player,” said Stafford, a lawyer, former congressional staff member and former administrative judge in the Interior Department.
“I have support from all around the state and from members of Congress,” he said. “I just need to call [the support] in.”
He is not relying on big-name endorsements to carry him entirely in next week’s primary against seven other Republicans. Stafford said he has been campaigning full-time for the seat, although he insists that his role as full- time father to his five children comes first.
The Laurel resident, who is married, is otherwise semi-retired, publishing an investment-strategy newsletter. He has not raised or spent the $5,000 minimum that would require him to file a campaign finance report with the Federal Elections Commission.
A native Marylander, he is running on a platform of privatizing health care, abolishing the federal income tax, outlawing abortion and mounting a strong defense against China and Russia.
This is not his first bid for the Senate. When Stafford ran in 1998, he said he received pre-primary endorsements from Sens. Connie Mack, R-Fla., Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Bob Smith, a New Hampshire independent who was a Republican at the time.
That came as something of a surprise to those senators.
Nancy Segerdahl, a spokeswoman for Mack, said it is not the Mack’s policy to endorse candidates. “We don’t endorse anyone,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Smith said that Stafford was promised a “pledge of support,” but only if he won the primary. Stafford came in last of 10 candidates in the 1998 primary, with 7 percent of the vote.
But Stafford insists those Washington insiders “were willing to support me before the primary.” He also said that he solicited support in 1998 from Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., but said they declined because he asked too late.
“I could have had more if I had started earlier,” he said.
Stafford said he made many of his contacts after working as an adviser on former Sen. Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. It was during that campaign that Stafford told Dole “he had to win over the Republican governors to win the nomination. I gave him that idea.”
A spokesman for Dole could not be reached for comment.
Stafford said he was the first to tell former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the magnitude of the Republican takeover of the House in 1994. “[Gingrich] was already onto the idea in a political sense,” Stafford said. “But I was able to give him some numbers.”
But Stafford says he also has friends on the other side of the aisle, from his years as a Democrat.
In the 1960s, he said, he worked for liberal Democrats in Congress and on the presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy. While working on Kennedy’s campaign, he said, he dated Chappaquidick victim Mary Jo Kopechne and asked her to marry him.
“But she turned me down flat,” he said.
Stafford said he worked on the 1966 state Senate campaign of Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. While Stafford said they “don’t agree on a lot of things” now — Stafford switched to the GOP after President Reagan’s election — he maintains that he and Hoyer are lifelong friends.
Stafford said Hoyer has even urged him to switch back to the Democratic Party and challenge Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda.
A Hoyer spokeswoman said that while Hoyer might have had a conversation with Stafford about running for office, he did not actively recruit him.
“[Hoyer] has known Mr. Stafford a long time,” said Debra DeShong, the spokeswoman. “They’ve probably talked two or three times in the last year.”
While an endorsement from Hoyer is unlikely, Stafford said he is working on other members of Congress for support. He said he has called on Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, but has received no endorsements to date.
“I’ve just started working on that,” he said last week of his appeal for endorsements. “But I’m optimistic.”