If shaking hands with potential voters translates into votes, Republican Robin Ficker is a shoo-in to win election to the U.S. Senate next year.
In officially announcing his candidacy yesterday for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Ficker noted that he has shaken hands with more than 560,000 people during 2 1/2 years of campaigning around the state.
Ficker, a former state delegate from western Montgomery County, has become a common sight at countless events around Maryland, ranging from Orioles games and street festivals to Monday's Bob Dylan concert in Baltimore.
To keep track of the number of hands he has shaken on the campaign trail, he issues fliers with serial numbers.
"I've been trying since March of 1997 to light a candle, to change the way we run for the U.S. Senate," he said in declaring his candidacy on the State House steps in Annapolis.
Outlining his agenda, Ficker called for better schools, a leaner government, environmental protections and a push to make Maryland a leader in high technology.
He also took shots at Sarbanes, a Democrat who is seeking a fifth six-year term.
"I believe he's been aloof, he's been ivory tower and somewhat lazy," Ficker said. "I am none of those."
Ficker traveled yesterday with a small entourage that included his mother, Olive, and two of his three children.
Also entered in the March 7 Republican primary is Paul H. Rappaport, the former Howard County police chief who has run two unsuccessful statewide campaigns.
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, had considered a run against Sarbanes but has opted instead to seek re-election to his House seat next year.
Ficker, 56, is a defense attorney who handles traffic and criminal cases. He served in the House of Delegates from 1979 to 1983, developing a reputation as an ineffectual maverick whose unorthodox tactics often irritated his colleagues.
Since then, he has made a name by gathering thousands of signatures to put a series of ballot questions before Montgomery County voters on issues including taxes, sludge, telephone rates and garbage dumps.
Ficker said voters have approved three of his 16 initiatives.
He also became notorious for heckling visiting players from his seat just behind their bench at Washington Bullets games. His verbal abuse drew derisive notice in basketball great Larry Bird's autobiography.