WASHINGTON – Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, and challenger Donald DeArmon both describe the race for Maryland’s 6th congressional district as a classic battle between Washington insider and independent outsider.
With a twist.
Bartlett, the incumbent, is focusing on his maverick voting record and staunch conservative views while DeArmon, the Democratic challenger, is touting his experience as a veteran Capitol Hill staff member with the ability to move legislation through the inside channels.
DeArmon’s ties have helped him mount what many in his party see as a credible campaign, raising more than $216,000 in contributions and loans, in a district that was long held by conservative Democrats.
Most notably, DeArmon — who took a leave of absence from his Hill job to begin campaigning for the seat a year ago — added almost $100,000 to his campaign funds from June to September of this year.
“Bartlett’s issues don’t relate back to the district, he’s been unresponsive,” said Catherine Smith of the Frederick County Democratic Central Committee. “He’s a godfather who knows all and does all.”
The committee, which shares a campaign office with DeArmon, has been very active in support of him, “pulling out all the stops.”
But most analysts believe that the race is Bartlett’s to lose, and they doubt that the Western Maryland district — which includes parts of Howard County and all of Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties — has moved as far to the center as Democrats hope.
Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, said he doubts Bartlett will lose, because the Republican “reflects the ideology of the district with his voting record and his standpoint.”
“Bartlett always makes it more difficult on himself,” Haller said. “On paper, this race should have no difficulty (for Bartlett), but Democrats always see him as a target — he’s unpredictable and does things the voter may find inappropriate.”
Bartlett has earned a reputation for that unpredictable behavior that, for a member of Congress, is somewhat unconventional. He always carries a copy of the Constitution and is fond of pointing out sections on the limited powers of the Congress.
He regularly criticizes the size of government and government spending and he routinely earns high marks from groups liked the American Conservative Union and the National Federation of Independent Business.
“Bartlett was very strong in the first half of this session, with a rating of 100 percent,” said Matt Latimer, an NFIB spokesman. The group named Bartlett, who is the chairman of a small business subcommittee, a guardian of small businesses, citing his votes on everything from tax relief to reducing paperwork.
“He’s a fantastic conservative with a fantastic voting record over his past seven years of service,” said American Conservative Union spokesman Ian Walters. “He’s stood up for conservative ideals and principles.”
Walters’ group gave Bartlett a 96 percent rating in 1999 and an overall lifetime record of 99 percent.
Besides his interest in small business, Bartlett calls defense a top issue, often taking on overlooked or obscure topics. He has sponsored a ban on selling pornographic material on military bases, pushed to keep women from serving on submarines and authored a bill this session to allow for the adoption of military dogs.
Bartlett, a scientist, farmer and former professor, has also promoted defending the country from electro-magnetic pulse attacks from an atmospheric nuclear blast, which could fry the country’s communications and electronic systems.
Paul Ellington, executive director of Maryland’s Republican Party, said the party is not doing much for Bartlett in this campaign because “Bartlett represents his district well” and is not a politician. He has $234,807 on hand to defend his seat in the final days of the campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“His constituents aren’t interested in people meddling in their lives,” said Ellington, adding that the party is confident of a Bartlett victory.
DeArmon thinks differently, saying that the district has become much more moderate since Bartlett took office eight years ago.
“He’s got an anti-government attitude that’s stood in the way of numerous opportunities that government can work for them,” said DeArmon. “He’s been a mistake from the very beginning. . .Bartlett’s out of step with mainstream thinking.”
The district has voted Republican in recent presidential elections, and 1998 voter registration figures showed 168,078 Republicans to 149,475 Democrats in the district.
Some political analysts argue the urbanization of Maryland could push it to the left, but Western Maryland is expected to stay close to its overwhelmingly white, often rural tradition. While the Almanac of American politics predicts a “tremendous amount of suburban growth — especially along the I-270 corridor — that could impact its politics,” most pundits concede that they see no real impact on the district for the next few years.
“It’s generally a conservative area,” said Carol Arscott, of the polling firm, Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications. “They elect lots of Republicans to the state legislature and even when they elect a Democrat, it’s a conservative Democrat.”
Still, DeArmon is steadfast in his belief that Bartlett is “out of step with the people” — a claim the 1998 Democratic nominee Timothy D. McCown made before losing to Bartlett by a 63-37 percent margin.
On the stump, DeArmon points to a recent controversy over the renaming of a post office in Savage, chiding Bartlett for not consulting with the community. DeArmon said that residents’ anger over that issue was the culmination of their frustration with a congressman who they felt was out of touch with them.
DeArmon is the only congressional challenger in the state to be endorsed this year by The (Baltimore) Sun, which criticized Bartlett for doing little for the 6th District. Newspapers in the district have not made endorsements in the race yet.
“Donald M. DeArmon. . .offers a dynamic difference. He is an earnest candidate who demonstrates a broad knowledge of the home territory and a keen insight into the subtle inner workings of Congress,” said The Sun editorial.
This is not DeArmon’s first bid for Congress, or his first in the 6th District. In 1994, he lost a primary race against six other Democrats eager to challenge Bartlett, who was then finishing his first term. He also ran unsuccessfully for the 1st District seat in 1980, also losing in the Democratic primary for the Eastern Shore seat.
DeArmon was a Capitol Hill staffer at the time of the 1st District bid, and returned to the Hill after that loss. He now has 23 years of Washington experience, working under representatives from North Carolina to California.
He currently works for Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., where he handles Appropriations Committee issues for her office.
Early in his career, DeArmon worked for Rep. David Price, D-N.C. He said DeArmon was an efficient manager for his office, but really started to shine when Price was named to the Appropriations Committee.
“What I remember. . .is what he did to figure out how a junior Appropriations member could get things done,” Price said. “He’s very creative.”
That background has also allowed DeArmon to attack Bartlett’s voting record on appropriations bills — attacks that Bartlett said are based on small items taken out of context and twisted for purposes of negative campaigning.
“He knows what he’s doing, he used to work on Appropriations,” Bartlett said. “He’s trying to hide the fact that he’s a tax-more liberal.”
DeArmon characterizes himself as a moderate, however, interested in saving social programs rather than pushing for tax cuts, and in emphasizing the need for increased local involvement in educational affairs.
Still, Price conceded the race will be an “uphill fight,” and describes DeArmon as the race’s underdog but maintains it’s a “sleeper race that might take hold.”