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Tension cloaked Prestige Cable Channel 3's studio like bad cologne minutes before Thursday's live telecast of a 6th District congressional candidates' forum.

Restive, scurrying crew members attended to last-minute details. Candidate staffers and guests nervously sipped juice and nibbled hors d'oeuvres. Republicans Roscoe Bartlett and Mike Downey and Democrat Tom Hattery fidgeted as they took their seats under the spotlights.

And that's when things were going well.

Six minutes before theshow was to go on the air, a phone rang at the Westminster studio. Calling from her car, U.S. Rep. Beverly B. Byron said she was a half-hour away. An accident had delayed the Democrat's trip from Washington.

"That's rotten," muttered one frustrated crew member.

The telecast already had suffered a setback earlier in the day when Republican candidate Frank Nethken of Cumberland pulled out, choosing insteadto watch a forum of Allegany County school board candidates.

Now the highest-profile guest was tardy. The producers faced a wrenching decision: Should they go on air as scheduled or wait for the congresswoman?

The three-member panel of Channel 3 news staffers that would question the candidates urged that the telecast air on time.

"Let's go with it," said General Manager Marty Sonenshine, and the show was on.

Such is the nature of live television.

Byron did arrive, tiptoeing into her seat 24 minutes after the forum began.

And the crew eventually tamed a slew of technical glitches -- including microphone problems that led to an 11-minute block of commercials and public service spots early on -- to give Carroll cable viewers a glimpse of the candidates vying for their votes.

With the March 3 primary just several days away, the forum broke little ground. The candidates espoused the positions and themes they've sounded throughout the campaign.

Bartlett, a retired teacher, researcher and homebuilder from Frederick, called for health-care reform and the reduction of taxes and the size of government.

"Thomas Jefferson said government that governs best is the government that governs least," he said. "We must be a million miles from that objective of our founding fathers."

Downey, a Frederick businessman, vowed to make government friendlier to business.

He suggested reductions in corporate and capital gains taxes to help revive the slumping economy. He also touted education and health care as among his priorities.

Byron, a seven-term incumbent from Frederick, pointed to her record of working for economic development and road projects for the 6th District.

Mount Airy resident Hattery, a Frederick County state delegate, pledged to advance the agenda of "ordinary, working citizens," and eschew special-interest meddling. He also renewed his call for a national health caresystem.

During the telecast, the candidates were mostly well-behaved, with the only breach of decorum coming when Hattery interrupted Byron while she was answering a question on congressional pay raises. A brief volley between the two ensued, before Byron was able to complete her answer.

With the exception of Byron, the candidates seemed unaccustomed to live television, appearing wooden and unpolished during the 65-minute telecast.

The forum will be rerun on Cable Channel3 at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday; 7:15 and 8:45 p.m. Friday; and about 7:10 a.m. on Monday, March 3, after "AM Edition."

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