It said something about last night's debate between Senate candidates that Republican Alan Keyes was never more heated than when he took on President Bush and his campaign of re-election.
Mr. Keyes, who has criticized his national party for its lack of support for his campaign and has refused to endorse Mr. Bush's re-election bid, said, "I've been giving President Bush some good advice, that it's very important he back away from this ad hominem slashing and he start to articulate good Republican principals.
"What I want to see are the type of positive proposals that I've been putting forth," Mr. Keyes said of his party's standard-bearer, saying he still is considering giving the president his support.
Otherwise, the hourlong encounter on Maryland Public Television followed a consistent pattern, with Mr. Keyes continuously attacking incumbent Democrat Barbara Mikulski as an out-of-touch legislator who supports failed bureaucratic programs and Senator Mikulski calmly defending her record of service to the state.
In his opening statement, Mr. Keyes, dressed casually in a cardigan sweater, said the choice was between "somebody who believes in the power of the federal bureaucracy and Alan Keyes, who feels you've got to return power to the people at the grass-roots level."
Senator Mikulski responded, "You know me, I'm a fighter, I like working and fighting for you in Washington."
Mr. Keyes often tried to take advantage of the anti-incumbency sentiment in the country, lumping his opponent with incumbents who "get away with telling us what we want to hear during elections, but when the election is over they do what they please."
The incumbent reminded the audience of her beginnings in organizing East Baltimore neighborhoods in fighting a highway that would have gone through Fells Point.
L At one point, she asked Mr. Keyes to end his attacks on her.
"You are a scholar, a diplomat and a gentleman . . ." she said, turning to Mr. Keyes. "You are doing what you've accused me of, not saying what your plans are, your ideas are.
"I've read some of them and I think the people of Maryland would like to hear what you have to say rather than playing the blame game."
"I've talked about issues on which we differ," Mr. Keyes responded. "The record of Senator Mikulski is something we have to discuss because it is not very good."
Perhaps the sharpest exchange was on the abortion issue, with Mr. Keyes defending his anti-abortion rights position by saying, "Your and my right to choose ends where someone else's life begins.
"Some might say that the fetus is not a human being, it's just a mass of tissue, but it was not so long ago people used to argue that I was not a human being because of the color of my skin."
Senator Mikulski affirmed her pro-abortion rights position: "I am pro-privacy, pro-choice and pro-prevention. I do not believe the government should be involved in this decision."
L The candidates were questioned by a panel of four reporters.
Responding to one question, Mr. Keyes restated his criticism of Senator Mikulski for choosing to debate on public television instead of a Baltimore commercial station, saying it showed a lack of respect for the African-American community that does not watch MPT.
Senator Mikulski said she had agreed to this League of Women Voters' format 18 months ago.