Bill Brock last ran for the U.S. Senate in 1976 in a failed attempt to keep his seat from Tennessee. Now, a generation later, he is seeking the same job in his adopted state of Maryland.
Despite a gilded resume that includes the chairmanship of the national Republican Party, a recent poll found that most voters here have never heard of him.
Between now and the Sept. 13 primary, Mr. Brock will traverse the state trying to introduce himself. He will emphasize his broad experience from his days as a congressman in the 1960s to his role as U.S. trade representative and secretary of labor in the Reagan White House. Along with those credentials, though, comes the accumulated baggage of more than 30 years in national politics.
As a freshman congressman from Tennessee, he voted against the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, the broadest of its kind since Reconstruction. During his six years in the Senate, Mr. Brock weathered several minor scandals involving his campaign and personal finances.
Past controversies could well become issues in the wide-open Republican primary race. His closest opponent -- Montgomery developer Ruthann Aron -- has already battered him on several points, including the charge that he is a "carpetbagger."
Ms. Aron has lived in the state for a little over two decades. The incumbent senator, Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes, is a lifelong Marylander who has held his seat for 18 years. Mr. Brock says he has lived here full-time for the past 4 1/2 years.
Charges of carpetbagging have hindered the state's two most recent Republican Senate nominees -- Linda Chavez, who ran against Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 1986, and Alan L. Keyes, who ran against Mr. Sarbanes in 1988 and Ms. Mikulski in 1992.
Mr. Brock, however, is a far more formidable challenger. So much so that even some of those close to him were caught off guard when he decided to run in Maryland.
"I was surprised that he would want to get back into the political fray at this point in his life," said U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, a Missouri Republican and longtime friend. "I have to say I admire him for doing it."
Mr. Brock says he is returning because he sees a national Republican Party that is unfocused, a political discourse that is mean-spirited and a country giving up on its people.
"The only advantage of getting old is that you can take risk," says Mr. Brock. "When you're 63, you don't need the glory, and you don't need the perks, and you don't need the honor. If you're going to do something at this age, you do it because you believe it."
Over the past three decades, William E. Brock III has evolved from an ideologically conservative Southern congressman to a politically moderate Washington insider.
His career began in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he grew up as an heir to the family business, the Brock Candy Co.
Rich, handsome and ambitious, he rose into the leadership ranks of the company and the state Republican Party in the early 1960s.
In his second year in Congress, he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which gave the federal government the authority to sue to desegregate public accommodations.
Mr. Brock concedes the vote was a mistake. He said he based it, in part, on his experience in Chattanooga, where, he said, voluntary desegregation occurred without the help of federal law.
Although it happened three decades ago, the vote could resonate in this year's campaign, particularly among black voters in Baltimore and in Prince George's County.
Mr. Brock said he doubts the issue would stick. "I've done a lot better since. . . . I think most people in this state believe in redemption," he said.
During Mr. Brock's four terms in the House, his record included opposition to Medicare and support for legislation that reduced the voting age to 18. He also pushed to establish the volunteer army.
In 1970, he gave up his House seat to run for the Senate against Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Sr., father of the vice president. Some recall Mr. Brock's campaign as nasty and racially divisive.
Mr. Brock's "victory could be credited almost entirely to his sophisticated attempts to play on Tennessean's racial fears and animosities," says the Almanac of American Politics, a respected reference guide.
Mr. Brock calls the analysis "baloney" -- probably the work of a college sophomore.
But David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who covered the race for Harper's magazine, sharply disagreed with Mr. Brock's recollection.
"It was a very ugly campaign," said Mr. Halberstam, who is a friend of the Gores. "If he's not embarrassed by it, he should be ashamed."
In the Senate, Mr. Brock became an advocate of campaign finance reform. Campaign finance, however, also became a political problem for the senator himself.
In 1973, it surfaced that a secret White House fund had funnelled a substantial sum of money to Mr. Brock's 1970 campaign. Then, as now, Mr. Brock said he knew nothing about the fund, known as "Operation Townhouse."
However, recently declassified documents from the Watergate special prosecutor's file include "thank you" notes from Mr. Brock to people who contributed as much as $10,000 each to his campaign through the operation.
Many of the notes also mention Jack Gleason, a Nixon aide who administered the fund. Mr. Gleason later pleaded guilty to running an illegal fund-raising operation.
Shown a copy of one of the letters recently, Mr. Brock said he didn't know anything about it.
"That letter was written for me," he said. "It probably was signed for me. When you're getting contributions and you're sending out a thousand, 2,000 letters, you don't pay a lot of attention to that."
Mr. Brock was never accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
During his 1976 re-election race, campaign finance emerged as an issue again. Gulf Oil Corp. admitted that it had given Mr. Brock a $3,000 illegal contribution in 1970. A Gulf lobbyist said he had personally delivered it to Mr. Brock.
Mr. Brock said he never received the contribution, but paid the company the money to settle the matter.
When voters tossed Mr. Brock and other Republicans out of office in 1976, he took over as chairman of the national party, where he won praise as the best leader in years.
With his organizing skills, a revamped fund-raising mechanism, and the candidacy of Ronald Reagan, the party made a comeback in 1980, winning both the White House and control of the Senate.
After Watergate, "people . . . were saying this could be the end of the Republican Party," recalled William J. Bennett, the former U.S. secretary of education who served with Mr. Brock in the Reagan White House. "I think Bill Brock, . . . more than anyone else, put the Republican Party back together."
Mr. Brock also received attention as chairman for his efforts to recruit people the party had often ignored -- blacks, women and blue-collar workers.
In 1981, he moved to the White House to serve as trade representative under Mr. Reagan and later as labor secretary, taking stands in support of affirmative action, parental leave and worker retraining.
Mr. Brock left office in 1987. Using his White House experience, he later formed the Brock Group, a firm that advises foreign countries and domestic companies on international trade policy.
Recently the company earned nearly $1 million for advising Mexico how to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Since moving to Maryland, Mr. Brock has dabbled in state politics, chairing a political action committee for Republican candidates to the General Assembly.
He lives in a waterfront home in Annapolis with his wife, Sandy, and spends time with his seven grandchildren.
It is a lifestyle many people of his age and accomplishments would prefer to the campaign trail and Capitol Hill. Mr. Brock, however, says he believes he can still have an impact on the process.
When you make such a decision, he said, "you're willing to take the hits that you know you're going to get, but it's something you've got to do."
If you need to register to vote for Maryland's primary election in September and the general election in November, you can learn important dates and where to register by calling Sundial, the Baltimore Sun's telephone information service.
For most users, the number to dial is (410) 783-1800. But in Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338.
Then, using a touch-tone phone, punch in the appropriate four-digit code after you hear the greeting to get information about where you live:
* Anne Arundel County -- 6181
* Baltimore -- 6182
* Baltimore County -- 6183
* Carroll County -- 6184
* Harford County -- 6185
* Howard County -- 6186