In politics, entrenched incumbents often try to ignore their election opponents to deny them attention and persuade voters they are confident of victory and above the fray.
But not 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett.
Western Maryland's conservative Republican congressman is a four-term incumbent in a district with 50,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, but he is attacking his never-elected challenger - for something he didn't do.
Bartlett issued a news release yesterday attempting to link Democratic nominee Donald M. DeArmon to a vote cast by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a California Democrat for whom DeArmon works.
The vote was to strip the Boy Scouts of America of its national charter because of the Scouts' ban on gays.
"Since he's very liberal in claiming as legislative accomplishments the votes of his boss, I think voters should ask if he will claim credit and stand with his boss who voted to repeal the federal charter of the Boy Scouts," Bartlett said in his news release.
"I was proud to vote NO today on this latest assault against the Boy Scouts' First Amendment rights by radical homosexual activists and their supporters in the Democratic party."
DeArmon, a 22-year Capitol Hill staffer who has worked for several members of Congress, is on a campaign leave of absence from his job with Roybal-Allard. His Internet Web site has a section titled "Legislative Accomplishments," which, after first distinguishing between the work of members and that of their staff, lists a number of issues DeArmon has worked on.
"Don has done the legwork on a hundred different initiatives, some of which became law," DeArmon's Web site says in part. "His experience will allow him to use the legislative process to help our communities."
"I say members are members and staff are staff," DeArmon, a Frederick native who became an Eagle Scout in 1971, said yesterday by phone about his experience. "I have relevant experience. I wasn't trying to take credit for any of my member's votes.
"We should be worried about why Bartlett is attacking me. I think he's trying to distract from his own terrible record," the Democrat said.
Herb Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College, was critical of Bartlett on two counts - substance and tactics.
"In politics, there are no rules, but there are boundaries. And it would seem that the congressman is stretching one to the point of breaking it," he said.
Smith called Bartlett's release "a cheap-shot attack."
In addition, Smith said, "Tactically, it doesn't make much sense. He's [Bartlett] ahead, unless his polls are showing he's behind. It makes virtually no sense whatever. That's one of those inexplicable things on the same level of why you put a subliminal [word] RATS in a commercial. It's just dumb politics."
Bartlett asks: "Does DeArmon support or oppose the Boy Scouts' membership rules? Does he influence his boss's votes as he claims?"
But DeArmon said he has never made such a claim, and Smith said, "It's hard to conceive of a voter who would hold him [DeArmon] accountable for the votes of his boss."
"As I've talked to people around the 6th District, the Boy Scouts is not an issue," DeArmon said.