In their campaign for the 6th District congressional seat, Democrat Thomas Hattery and Republican Roscoe Bartlett are waging an intense battle that shows no sign of letting up before Nov. 3. The distasteful slash-and-smear tactics that have overwhelmed the race indicate it may be closer than expected.
Republicans register more voters in Carroll and Howard counties and in Western Maryland than Democrats, but the dynamics involved in this congressional race transcend party allegiance. Recent arrivals in the 6th District, many of whom may register as Republicans, tend to be pragmatic professional suburbanites.
Many of the Democrats, who are quite conservative, tend to vote ideologically. Another element that has to be factored in is the large bloc of Democrats who supported Beverly Byron, the incumbent whose family had represented the district for 26 of the past 54 years until Mr. Hattery defeated her in the primary. Angry at the tactics Mr. Hattery used in the primary, many Byron supporters may vote against him out of spite.
Presidential politics may also come into play in the district. Mr. Bartlett is hoping to benefit from the traditional support for the Republican presidential candidate. But this year may be different. George Bush doesn't seem to be as strong among the so-called Reagan Democrats -- who have considerable numbers in the 6th -- as he was when he was elected president in 1988.
Polls indicate that many of these working class voters are concerned more about jobs and the economy than the "values" issues that were successful in the past.
One other element plays an important role in this race. Mr. Hattery has run successfully three times for the House of Delegates in Frederick County and has had exposure beyond that county. Mr. Bartlett, who ran unsuccessfully in two GOP primaries before this win, has far less recognition.
When the two candidates aren't tearing each other down, Mr. Hattery's message is that he has experience in legislating and has a plan to address the pressing issues of the district, such as creating jobs. Mr. Bartlett's campaign has a more ideological bent: cutting taxes and government spending are his cure for the district's economic doldrums.
The two candidates are probably not going to let up on their hard-hitting campaign tactics as long as the race is close, and the voters can expect more fireworks before this campaign ends.