Although she's campaigning in friendly territory against an underfinanced opponent, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley takes the March 3 Maryland primary seriously.
"There's still a move to throw the rascals out," said Mrs. Bentley, R-2nd. "The rascals can be anybody. I have to be prepared."
Actually, her toughest re-election battle may have been fought last fall when she preserved most of the district despite attempts by the state's Democratic leadership to carve Baltimore County into five pieces and throw her into the same district with Eastern Shore Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st.
With help from Gov. William Donald Schaefer and others among Mrs. Bentley's political friends, much of the 2nd District was preserved. It now includes 370,268 people in eastern and northern Baltimore County, all of Harford County's 182,132 residents, and 45,000 people in a small portion of Anne Arundel County around Gibson Island.
Robert T. Petr, 49, Mrs. Bentley's only GOP primary opponent, isn't actively campaigning and expects to spend less than $1,000 of his own money, while Mrs. Bentley has more than $250,000 stashed away in her campaign fund.
Mr. Petr's Parkville home and insurance business are actually now in the new 3rd District, but candidates for Congress need not live where they run.
The five Democratic candidates vying for their party's nomination are all low-budget political unknowns, although several have run for office once before.
Still, Mrs. Bentley, at 68, has a firm grip on political reality. It took her three hard-fought campaigns to win office, finally defeating 22-year incumbent Democrat Clarence D. Long in 1984. And she is keenly aware that 1990 was not kind to incumbents, especially in Baltimore County, where an incumbent county executive and five County Council members were thrown out by voters.
She has been playing to her strengths, supporting the port of Baltimore and the blue-collar steel and auto industries in the eastern part of Baltimore County, and escalating her Japan-bashing.
Mrs. Bentley had $262,651 on hand Dec. 31, and has a $500-a-ticket fund-raiser scheduled in Washington Feb. 26, according to her campaign manager, Thomas K. O'Neill.
Three of the five Democratic candidates are from the Harford portion of the district, and one, attorney Michael C. Hickey Jr., made a previous run for Congress. In 1990, Mr. Hickey finished last among four candidates in the Eastern Shore-dominated 1st Congressional District.
Of the two Baltimore County-based Democratic hopefuls, Cornelius U. Morgan, 69, of Carney, is running as a follower of jailed political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche. Mr. Morgan, a retired Aberdeen Proving Ground worker, ran unsuccessfully in the 1990 primary.
James E. DeLoach, 26, an entrepreneur from eastern Baltimore County, is in his first race for elective office. Mr. DeLoach said he already has had several jobs, including a Baltimore Sun distributorship, a limousine service using his 1969 Cadillac limousine, a 10-acre Christmas tree farm in Western Maryland and a real-estate practice.
Mr. DeLoach said he actually got his political start as a volunteer for Mrs. Bentley in 1983 when he was a Perry Hall High School senior. He said he plans to spend "at least $5,000" on his primary campaign, including a few radio ads.
He said he wants to cut the federal defense budget in half and use the money to spur the economy with low-interest business loans, to improve education and to pay for continued space and "Star Wars" research. Mr. DeLoach also would push for a national sales tax to replace other taxes, including the income tax.
Paul D. Raschke, 36, an attorney from Bel Air, promises to improve the economy and criticizes Mrs. Bentley's leadership. He works for the Maryland Casualty Co. and is active in the Maryland State Bar Association.
Joseph John Bish Jr., 34, also of Bel Air, another first-time candidate, said he's concerned about the poor economy from a personal perspective, because some of his friends have lost jobs. As an athletic coach in schools around the area, he said, he's worried about the job outlook for the teen-agers with whom he's worked in Dundalk and other hard-pressed areas. He said he has been campaigning vigorously since July 1991: "I've spoken to 5,000 people, 100 clubs and civic groups, and I have 250 volunteers."
Mr. Bish said he'd push to modernize the Bethlehem Steel shipyard to attract new contracts, persuade General Motors to build a new assembly plant in the district to replace the old one on Broening Highway and work with teaching hospitals to develop medically related industries.
Mr. Hickey, another lawyer, is making the rounds of Democratic political clubs, calling on old friends for help. In 1990, running in the 1st District, he received 10 percent of the vote. Since most of his literature from the 1990 carried only his name, Mr. Hickey is using it again this year.
With a campaign treasury of $1,000 of personal money, Mr. Hickey is hoping to jump to the lead in a field of Democratic novices by pushing himself and a plan for national health insurance patterned after the Social Security system.
Mr. Petr, who ran unsuccessfully for Baltimore County executive in 1986 and 1990, sees himself as the ideological equivalent of conservative Republican columnist Patrick Buchanan, who is challenging President Bush from the right. Mr. Petr criticizes Mrs. Bentley for her Bush-style moderate Republicanism.
A Parkville insurance broker, Mr. Petr concedes that "the odds of beating her are very slim." He said he's running, though, because Mrs. Bentley is "a little too liberal. I'm pro-life, I don't think she is," Mr. Petr said.
Mrs. Bentley said she opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. But she opposes federal rules preventing physicians in federally funded clinics from receiving federal funds. "People are entitled to information," Mrs. Bentley said.
Mr. Petr said government spending should be cut drastically, and criticized Mr. Bush's recent transportation public works bill as a "boondoggle." He said members of Congress should not vote to preserve defense facilities and contracts, even if it means losing jobs in their own districts.
Mr. Petr said he has a plan for improving the economy, but would not reveal it until tonight at his only campaign appearance -- a candidates' night at Anne Arundel Community College.