Alan Keyes was hot.
Del. Martha S. Klima, one of his opponents in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, had claimed he supports higher welfare payments. She even distributed a flier with his picture. He was steamed.
He called a radio talk show yesterday to denounce the flier as an inexcusable, "total distortion" of his record. In an interview Tuesday night he condemned it as "a bald-faced lie."
"You would have to question the fitness for public office of anyone who would say such a thing," he argued.
For months, Ms. Klima, Mr. Keyes and 12 other Republicans have campaigned for their party's nomination in relative obscurity. But as the March 3 primary nears, the players are going for the jugular.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is enjoying the advantage of an incumbent with a big campaign war chest and six opponents who are virtually unknown outside their circle of family and friends.
Yesterday, the GOP battle moved to the Baltimore airwaves. Tom Marr, whose WCBM radio talk show is a lightning rod for conservative opinion, raised questions about the Klima flier on the air and soon had Ms. Klima on the line defending it.
She insisted that the transcript from a Jan. 20 broadcast of Cable News Network's Crossfire shows Mr. Keyes calling for increased welfare payments by proposing a "marriage bonus" and continued support for those who find jobs.
Before long, other callers were wondering whether the flier was racially motivated -- Mr. Keyes is black, Ms. Klima white -- and Mr. Keyes was accusing Ms. Klima of knowingly spreading a lie.
He doesn't want to increase welfare payments, he just wants to re-arrange their distribution, Mr. Keyes said.
"He can interpret his statements any way he wants," Ms. Klima huffed yesterday afternoon. "But a marriage bonus means increased welfare payments."
Mr. Keyes, who enjoys a wide lead in the latest Mason-Dixon poll, has until now virtually ignored the other Republicans, concentrating his fire on Ms. Mikulski.
"I don't care what they say," he snapped, dismissing his challengers' complaints that he can't win in November. "I'm the only candidate with a statewide basis. All of the rest of them are just blowing smoke."
His opponents argue that Mr. Keyes, who suffered a lopsided loss to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 1988, cannot attract the Democratic voters needed to win in Maryland.
"I don't sense that someone as far to the right as Alan is can win the general election," fretted Del. John J. Bishop, who represents the same Baltimore County district as Ms. Klima. "We need somebody more moderate, more like me."
They also complain that Mr. Keyes has little background in the state.
"Nobody ever heard of Alan Keyes before 1988," groused Joseph I. Cassilly, the Harford County state's attorney who says his political philosophy is close to Mr. Keyes'.
"Has he ever worked a day in Maryland?" wondered Ms. Klima. "Where has he been?"
"My family has lived in Maryland since 1800," countered Mr. Keyes, a career foreign service officer.
The other Republicans in the race are Joyce Friend-Nalepka, a congressional lobbyist from Silver Spring; Herman Hannan, a Phoenix businessman; Stuart W. Hopkins, of the Caroline County Republican Central Committee; William H. Krehnbrink, a purchasing agent from Perry Hall, and Scott L. Meredith, a former Navy electrician from Barclay.
In addition, perennial candidate Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont, a Baltimore physician; Edward R. Shannon, a Silver Spring lawyer; S. Rob Sobhani, a former congressional aide from Rockville; Romie Allen Songer, a Pasadena businessman; and R. Eugene Zarwell, a consultant, are seeking the nomination.
While there have been some fireworks on the Republican side, Ms. Mikulski's Democratic challengers all but concede defeat. Some say they got into the race in hopes of getting a forum for their views.
"I'm running to get a message out," said James L. White, a Baltimore hypnotist who runs a stop-smoking clinic. "There are more cancer deaths in this state than in any other state in the nation."
Others acknowledge the long-shot nature of their campaigns, but say they entered the race because they are worried about the future of the country.
"I was dissatisfied with the way the government is operating," said Scott D. Britt, a Beltsville lawyer. "And as my father said, if you want something done right, do it yourself."
Thomas M. Wheatley, who is in international finance, worries that the national debt is strangling the economy and frightening investors.
"We're way overspending our budget, and it has frightened the investment community away," he argued.
Other Democrats include Walter Boyd of Baltimore County, Don Allensworth of Hagerstown, James H. Perry of Bethesda and B. Emerson Sweatt of White Plains.