WASHINGTON – If you live in the north of Maryland, you might have seen them — the squeezable rubber ducks sporting camouflage shirts and military helmets and holding little canteens.
“They, of course, remind people to vote for Duck,” said Andrew Duck, the Democrat running for the 6th Congressional District who has handed out thousands of the bath toys. “And they also kind of carry the message of somebody who’s got a record in military service, someone who you can count on to protect you.”
It’s the main message Duck, a 20-year Army veteran, has been trying to hammer home in his effort to unseat Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, the seven-term incumbent and favorite in the district, which includes the state’s western panhandle and runs east to the Susquehanna River, including parts of Montgomery, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Duck, 43, of Brunswick, is using his experience as a military intelligence officer to challenge the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. He favors counter-insurgency and peace enforcement techniques similar to the ones used in Bosnia, where he was deployed three times before his 2003 stint in Iraq.
A change in policy is so important, he said, “Honestly, I think my country is at stake.”
For the past few months, he has been campaigning hard and full-time, taking leave from his job at Northrop Grumman Corp., where he advises the Pentagon on intelligence issues.
For a candidate fighting uphill, his fundraising haul of about $123,000 isn’t bad, and he’s been endorsed by prominent Maryland Democrats — Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Reps. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen — as well as by former presidential candidate and fellow veteran Gen. Wesley Clark.
Duck says he’s the best man for the 6th District because he has the temperament to confront the administration with its failures, unlike Bartlett and the comparatively quiet Green Party candidate, Robert Kozak.
“Can you see either one of them standing up to Rumsfeld when he comes in to testify in front of Congress and saying, ‘Sir, that’s a lie?'” he said. “I tell you, I will do it.”
The statement is bold, but not uncharacteristically so. The 15th of 17 children growing up in Berwyn Heights, Duck wasn’t swallowed up by his large family, but was confident and wanted to run for president from a young age, said the 14th child, Rita McCarn of Annandale.
That confidence was evident even when, as a small child, Duck got lost in the neighborhood, McCarn, 45, remembered. A police officer noticed him and offered him a ride home.
“He said, ‘No, because I’m not allowed to go with strangers,'” McCarn said.
In the end, the officer had to walk Duck home because the boy wouldn’t get in the car.
“I think he’s self-assured, has a clear idea about what he thinks is right and wrong and he’ll stick to it,” McCarn said.
Growing up with 16 siblings made Duck a people person, said Bonita Currey, 60, of Middletown, the campaign volunteer who convinced him to run in the first place. He has won a number of voters over by sheer charisma, she said.
Currey started bothering Duck to run for Congress in 2004 after witnessing his efficiency in the face of chaos during the Frederick for Kerry campaign, which he co-founded and she volunteered for.
During the Great Frederick Fair that year, Duck and his volunteers were cleared out of the Democratic Party tent during a tornado warning. The fair’s patrons took cover in a nearby building.
“Once the door was closed, he opens his coat and pulled out Kerry material and began to work the crowd,” Currey said. “I thought, ‘Anyone who is this dedicated, this committed to getting the job done, I want as my congressman, because mine is a loser.'”
Aside from the war in Iraq, Duck is primarily pushing for universal health care and energy independence within the next decade.
Although he says he wants a change, the policies Duck advocates on Iraq and energy aren’t very different from those in effect now, Kozak said.
“He seems to rely too much on standard Democratic rhetoric,” Kozak said. “I don’t see what he talks about very much different than what Bush talks about.”
His positions also seem to change as support for them does, said Republican primary candidate Joseph T. Krysztoforski, repeating a claim made over the summer that Duck favored escalating troops in Iraq, but later changed his position.
“Andrew Duck sways left and right,” Krysztoforski said. “The way the wind blows is the way that Andrew goes.”
Raised as a Catholic, Duck graduated from high school at age 16 and met the 19-year-old woman, already separated with a baby boy, who is now his wife, Whitney Duck. Months later, Whitney was carrying Duck’s child.
That child, Brandon, now 25, was born prematurely after a pregnancy doctors were sure would fail and take his mother with it. After his birth, the couple married. Duck was 18 and Whitney was 20.
With Brandon in poor health and another child, Millicent, now 24, on the way, Duck and his wife lost their retail jobs and Duck, in need of health insurance, enlisted in the Army in 1982 as a company clerk.
He worked his way up to be commissioned as a military intelligence officer, serving time on the ground in Bosnia until the conflict’s end, when he returned to the U.S. and got a job as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch in Frederick.
When the Gulf War started, Duck re-enlisted and, to his surprise, was assigned to be trained as a Korean linguist.
“I know enough to say, ‘I don’t speak Korean well,’ three different ways,” he said.
Duck never gave up on politics. Between courses completed before enlisting and the night classes he took while in the Army, he finally earned enough credits for a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Southwest Texas State University in 1992.
When the Iraq war began in 2003, Duck was deployed as an intelligence liaison officer to the U.S. Marine Corps, but was frustrated by Washington’s interference with the military’s attempts to do the right thing, he said.
Returning to Atlanta, Duck met with a supplier to ask for more armored cars for the soldiers, who were going out in unprotected Humvees. His request was shot down multiple times.
“The colonel I was talking to looked at me and said, ‘Captain, we are not here to discuss that today,'” Duck said.
After the meeting, Duck called his wife and said, “I can’t do this anymore.” He resigned.
Still outraged, Duck decided to run for Congress last year.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I helped get rid of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “But I’m absolutely embarrassed by what we’ve done after that.”
– 30 – CNS-10-27-06