With enough candidates to field a baseball team, voters in the 2nd Congressional District will have plenty of choices when they go to the polls in the Sept. 13 primary.
They include three members of the House of Delegates, a Towson banker, a Westinghouse analyst from Bel Air, the owner of a Dundalk 7-Eleven store, a Mass Transit Administration station manager, a catering employee and an Essex businessman.
The 2nd District has nearly 300,000 registered voters spread over three counties -- northern and eastern Baltimore County, all of Harford County and a small part of northern Anne Arundel County.
Democrats, who have a 2-to-1 registration edge, see this as their best chance to recapture the seat, which Mrs. Bentley wrested from its longtime Democratic occupant, Clarence D. Long, in 1984.
But the district -- predominantly white, middle class and conservative -- is home to many so-called Reagan Democrats, who often vote Republican in nonlocal contests and gave Mrs. Bentley comfortable margins five times.
When the political season began in January, it appeared that the front-runners, Democratic Del. Gerry L. Brewster and his House colleague, Republican Robert Ehrlich, would sail through the primaries and face each other in November.
Many politicians say that's still likely to happen, but both face spirited challenges that will make them work hard to win the nomination.
Mr. Brewster, 35, a Towson lawyer and son of former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster, calls himself a moderate but says his stint as a Baltimore County prosecutor made him tough on crime.
With his solid Democratic bloodline, name recognition and a fund-raising and campaign organization that started during winter, he had hoped for an easy primary.
But in April, Connie Galiazzo, 48, a first-term delegate from Dundalk, ruined Mr. Brewster's plans for an easy trip by declaring her candidacy. In the same week, she married union official J. Ronald DeJuliis and took his last name.
Mrs. DeJuliis is joined by four lesser-known Democrats in the primary election.
As first-term delegates, Mrs. DeJuliis and Mr. Brewster were described by seasoned legislators as hard workers in Annapolis. They chalked up similar voting records: Both favor a woman's right to an abortion and talk tough on crime.
One difference that surfaced this year involved gun control. Mr. Brewster voted for a ban on assault weapons; Mrs. DeJuliis opposed it.
While their legislative records are similar, their backgrounds couldn't be more different. Mr. Brewster grew up in the wealthy Northern Baltimore County suburbs, the son of a U.S. senator. Mrs. DeJuliis grew up in blue collar Dundalk. Her father was a steel worker, her mother, a factory worker.
Mr. Brewster attended the Gilman School and Princeton University and worked for former U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias of Maryland before getting his law degree from the University of Baltimore. Mrs. DeJuliis did factory work while studying at the University of Baltimore.
While Mr. Brewster does not dwell on his patrician background, Mrs. DeJuliis stresses her roots. In her speeches and campaign literature, she talks about her life as a single mother of three working her way through college.
"Ninety-eight percent of the people in this county are just like me," she said recently.
And, while not directly attacking Mr. Brewster, Mrs. DeJuliis often makes remarks that hint at her opponent's privileged background. "If you've never had to deal with the problems of life," she said recently, "how can you deal with the problems that face the country?"
Otherwise, Mr. Brewster and Mrs. DeJuliis have refrained from attacking each other, preferring a tug-of-war over endorsements and political support.
Mr. Brewster has done well in Eastside areas outside Mrs. DeJuliis' home turf, winning support from Essex legislators and Democratic clubs.
Mrs. DeJuliis has won backing from many Dundalk politicians, as well as the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO, representing 470,000 workers. A women's fund-raising group, EMILY's List, which supports abortion rights candidates for Congress, endorsed Mrs. DeJuliis and kicked in $5,000.
While the AFL-CIO endorsement has bolstered Mrs. DeJuliis' campaign, she has not shut out Mr. Brewster from labor support. He has the National Education Association, the Maryland United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in his camp.
Among Republicans, most politicians say Mr. Ehrlich will defeat first-time candidate Bill Frank, 34, who has nonetheless mounted an aggressive campaign. Mr. Ehrlich, 35, also has behind-the scenes support from many Democratic politicians who feel comfortable with his conservative outlook.
Like Mr. Brewster, Mr. Ehrlich is a graduate of the Gilman School and Princeton University, but he grew up in a working-class area of Arbutus and attended those schools, he said, "because I was lucky -- I was a good athlete."
As he campaigns, Mr. Ehrlich stresses his legislative record in Annapolis, where he served on the House Judiciary Committee, and his strong conservative views.
His campaign commissioned a poll, which shows him far ahead of Mr. Frank. But he said, "I've been in this business long enough to know you take nothing for granted." As a result, he's running hard.
Mr. Frank, an assistant vice president in public relations for First National Bank of Maryland, has been active in the Republican Party for years but is making his first run for office this year.
Without Mr. Ehrlich's name recognition or the backing he has, Mr. Frank still has managed to raise $40,000 for his campaign. He favors the death penalty, congressional term limits, a balanced federal budget and welfare reform.
He said he has declined to take "special interest money" from political action committees and bills himself as an experienced businessman who, like former presidential candidate Ross Perot, would go to Washington to make "the tough choices" and then get out.
The third Republican in the race, John Michael Fleig, 28, said he is a "Reagan person" who has worked on other campaigns and wants to take a conservative message to Congress. His said he does computer work for Martin's West, a large catering hall, and his business card identifies him as a "political hell raiser."
Rounding out the Democratic side are Joseph John Bish, 37, the Westinghouse analyst who lives in Bel Air; Kauko H. Kokkonen, 56, an MTA employee from Towson and a men's rights advocate; Hunter J. Epperson, 63, a former steel worker who owns a 7-Eleven store in Dundalk; and James Edward DeLoach Jr., an Essex businessman.
Mr. Bish describes himself as a conservative who believes in the death penalty. He said he's "pro-gun, pro-business, pro-life" and in favor of random drug testing for welfare recipients.
Mr. Kokkonen is a longtime advocate of men's rights whose campaign literature says he will focus on tort reform if elected to Congress. With no money to spend on his campaign, Mr. Kokkonen said he is concentrating on writing letters to newspapers and calling into radio talk shows.
Mr. Epperson said he is running for Congress because he's tired of the United States spending millions of dollars on foreign aid, while not taking care of its own citizens.
"I propose we stop sending foreign aid and start taking care of America first," said Mr. Epperson, who also says the United States should stop granting political asylum to immigrants. "I'm fed up with these immigrants coming into this country. We give them food, money. We buy them a business. Why can't we do something for our own people?"
Mr. DeLoach also ran in the 2nd District in 1992. At the time, he said he was an entrepreneur who owns several businesses in the Eastern part of Baltimore County. Efforts to reach him this year have been unsuccessful. The telephone number he gave to the Board of Elections is a beeper number, and no one has returned calls to him. A residential listing for Mr. DeLoach is disconnected.