BETHESDA – In hindsight, Wednesday may not have been the best day to announce a run for the U.S. Senate.
Yet American University history professor Allan Lichtman of Bethesda forged ahead despite the risk that Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley would divert media attention with his own announcement for the governor’s race.
In front of more than 50 supporters and family members at his son’s public school in North Bethesda, Lichtman formally announced his candidacy — one already made public through previous media interviews — for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., next year.
“We were on this date long before (O’Malley) was,” Lichtman said after his mid-day speech. “Things happen. We’re not going to change our campaign because of someone else.”
Lichtman, who has mortgaged his house to raise $250,000 for his campaign, becomes the fifth Democratic candidate vying for his party’s nomination. Rep. Ben Cardin and former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, both of Baltimore, enjoy the widest name recognition in a field that includes forensic psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren and socialist activist A. Robert Kaufman.
Sporting an electric blue shirt without a jacket or tie, Lichtman positioned himself as a political outsider who would “retake the moral high ground from the pretend moralists of the Bush administration.”
He denounced a “needless, deceptive” Iraq war, called for protecting abortion and other privacy rights and pointedly criticized Cardin for his voting record on Iraq and the Patriot Act.
Cardin voted against the Iraq war three years ago but subsequently voted to fund it. Last May, he voted against an amendment to a military spending bill that would have required the president to draw up an exit strategy for Iraq. He also voted for the Patriot Act in 2001.
“We must liberate Americans from policies that sell out our future to fossil fuels and big oil companies, gouge Marylanders at the gas pump, and put our national security in the hands of a few shaky regimes in the Middle East,” Lichtman said. He would draft legislation within the first 100 days of his term to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by 50 percent in 20 years, Lichtman said.
Several people in the room said they came to support Lichtman, but were unsure who they’d vote for next year.
Don Goral, a math professor from Bethesda, was “favorably impressed” with Lichtman’s views, but said he needed more details before he made up his mind.
Ted Seale, a hotel real estate consultant whose daughter studies with Lichtman’s son, Sam, agreed and said that next September’s primary was still far away.
“It’s really early,” Seale said.
More than a dozen of Sam’s eighth-grade classmates held hand-drawn campaign posters throughout Lichtman’s speech in the school gymnasium.
“He’s a great leader and he can definitely change stuff,” said Sam Lichtman, 13, who’s been making calls and distributing campaign flyers. “Like the government needs to stop going into our personal lives and stuff like that. And we need to get out of Iraq and stuff like that.”
While hardly addressing Mfume’s candidacy, Lichtman confronted Cardin as the “anointed” frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.
“We know that the anointment model has never worked,” Lichtman said. “Annointment is nothing more than a recipe for a Republican senator from the state of Maryland.”
Lichtman also criticized the lack of information on Cardin’s campaign site about the war.
“Any candidate who lacks the courage to tell the people of Maryland where he stands on the war should be morally disqualified from running for Senate,” Lichtman said.
Lichtman holds a doctorate from Harvard, teaches at American University and has served as a political commentator for various news media.
His wife, Karyn Strickler, is managing his campaign and previously worked as the finance director for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s, D-Kensington, run for Congress in 2002. She also is former head of the Maryland affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
Lichtman has written several books, including “The Thirteen Keys to the Presidency,” which created a formula for predicting winners of presidential elections. It was later revamped into the book “The Keys to the White House.”
He also made a brief, unsuccessful run for Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District seat against incumbent Rep. Connie Morella, D-Bethesda, in 1987.