UNLESS Democrates come up with a couple of heavyweight candidates in a hurry, the face of Maryland's congressional delegation is likely to remain the same with a single exception.
The exception is Rep. Helen Delich Bently, R-2nd, who's decided to give up the commute to Capitol Hill in exchange for the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis (unless she changes her mind).
The two congressional districts begging for Democratic candidates are the discombobulated 1st District, which jumps across the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis to the Eastern Shore, and the 6th District in Western Maryland.
Ms. Bentley's apparent departure from the congressional delegation has already attracted a lineup of successors, including college chums and House of Delegates buddies Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Democrat Gerry Brewster. Still on the waiting-to-be-heard-from list is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who's now working in the Justice Department that her father, Robert Kennedy, once headed as attorney general.
Firmly ensconced in the 1st District seat is Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, who defeated Democrat Tom McMillen in 1992 when the two incumbents were bumped into the same district by the fickle finger of redistricting.
Mr. Gilchrest earlier had defeated the resident Democrat, Roy P. Dyson, who, after 10 years in Congress, was sucked into the vortex of scandals involving not only himself but an aide who committed suicide.
So far, no Democrat has volunteered to challenge Mr. Gilchrest in a district that's been upended by scandal but whose virtue nonetheless is the reward of longevity in office.
In Western Maryland's 6th District, Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett has been subdued lately after a string of embarrassing misadventures. First, his congressional office was beset by charges of sexual harassment and the eventual departure of several aides. Next came Mr. Bartlett's thoughtless remark about Asian-Americans winning scholarships. And finally, his campaign was fined for failing to pay taxes on salaries of employees.
There's been talk of a rematch between Mr. Bartlett and Democratic Thomas H. Hattery, who lost to Mr. Bartlett in 1992. Mr. Hattery defeated the incumbent Democrat, Beverly Byron, in a blistering attack campaign whose theme was congressional perks.
Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Allegany, until recently House majority leader, had been considering challenging Mr. Bartlett, but problems in his Hagerstown law firm might prevent Mr. Poole's advancing from wannabe.
So far, neither Mr. Hattery nor Mr. Poole has tip-toed up to the starting line. However, another Republican has presented his calling card as a challenger to Mr. Bartlett. He's Lawrence Hogan Sr., attorney, former member of Congress, former Prince George's County executive, former candidate for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes. Just Tuesday, Paul D. Muldowney, former delegate from Hagerstown, announced that he's running for the seat now occupied by Mr. Bartlett.
In the 3rd District, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin is a flat-out favorite to return to Congress for a fourth term. Mr. Cardin has rejected blandishments to run for governor and he's risen steadily in the pecking order on the all-powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
Ditto in the 5th District, where Rep. Steny H. Hoyer is the resident Democrat and the prince of pork. Now that Lawrence Hogan Jr. has announced he won't replay his 1992 campaign against Mr. Hoyer, the fourth ranking member of Congress can probably look forward to a seventh term. Mr. Hoyer narrowly defeated Mr. Hogan in 1992 even though he outspent him 5-1.
Although under House rules he'll have to give up his position as chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Mr. Hoyer will retain enough clout to continue loading up his district with public works projects.
Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-5th, formerly a member of the Maryland Senate, appears to have a hammerlock on the newly cobbled minority district that joins parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
Mr. Mfume, a member since 1987, has risen steadily in prestige and prominence in the House. He's currently chairman of the Black Caucus. In recent campaigns, Mr. Mfume has had only light opposition.
Ms. Morella, elected in 1987, has resisted the bugle call of her Republican Party to challenge Mr. Sarbanes for the Democratic Senate seat this year. She's a solid favorite in her district where she works on issues that affect federal workers and women.
So, Unless the Democrats accelerate their recruiting drive, the only visage missing from Maryland's congressional delegation will be the newly tucked one of Ms. Bentley.
Frank A. DeFilippo writes a regular column on Maryland politics.