It's morning in Taneytown, the Colonial burg that Congressman Roscoe Bartlett likes to call "the best of America." In fact the 6th District Republican says that about all of Carroll County, which went 65 percent for George W. Bush in 2000 and 72 percent for Bartlett in 2002. Smiling, suit flapping slightly around his gaunt, 78-year-old form, Bartlett takes the lectern in the lobby of the Thunderhead bowling alley while the local movers and merchants polish off their scrambled eggs and the Mary Kay Cosmetics lady makes one last, whispered sales pitch before the speech.
Standing at the lectern overlooking the rectangular folding tables, addressing rapt rows of Republicans as a chaplain in a mess hall might, Bartlett, speaking half from notes and half by rote, presents his list of grievances.
"I'm concerned about manufacturing jobs leaving this country."
"We cannot run our government on current revenues."
"Ireland turns out more scientists and engineers than the U.S. If that's true . . . it's a threat to our national security."
And the big applause line: "If the rest of America were more like Taneytown, I wouldn't worry so much."
The man who is running perhaps the most relaxed, worry-free campaign in this tense national election season, who won 70 percent in the primary against his most serious challenger in years, who faces a virtual unknown November 2, has plenty of time for a Q&A.
An elderly man hauls himself out of a folding chair to demand, "Tell us something about Iraq."
Bartlett squints as though looking at something far away. "I saw Saddam's spider hole," he begins, and the memory triggers the home builder and the farmer in him. "I was probably the only congressman who laid down there. It's very interesting dirt -- it doesn't collapse. The water table is at 17 feet throughout most of Iraq." And another thing: "These people have no sense of nation. Their fidelity is overwhelmingly to their tribe and their religion."
A hmmm goes through the crowd. A man in a Stars and Stripes tie and a name tag that reads "SEEKING," meaning a job, asks "How long you think we're really gonna be there?"
"We need to get out as quickly as we can," Bartlett says. "But we can't fail."
A elderly man sitting midway down the room, in the laminated glow of the bowling lanes, asks, "What can we do to resolve the deficit?"
To Bartlett, that's a no-brainer. "Stop spending money for things that are unconstitutional." Such as education, philanthropy and health care for non-military, all of which Bartlett believes the government should not be paying for, according to the Constitution, which he carries in his pocket. "If you can't find it in Article 1, you can't do it."
The formal program ends, but the group follows Bartlett to the lobby, eager to talk about, as one man put it, "what in the world is happening to this country."
Dave Roush, a retired cement plant manager, says, "Iraq is the biggest thing right now."
"I'd pull out," says W. Robert Flickinger -- whose business card used to say Taneytown councilman, until he crossed it out and wrote "Mayor," because it's less wasteful than ordering new cards. "Take all the foreigners causing the trouble in this country and send them back home. Get them out of here."
Bartlett only nods. "Gay marriage," says Glenn Murphy Jr. of Westminster. "I'm finishing Bible college, and I know what's right and wrong . . . The next thing is, John Smith wants to marry his 7-year-old daughter, or he likes the tree out back, or his neighbor's billy goat looks good."
As Bartlett works his way toward the door, "We need more Christian men like him," Murphy says. "It used to be God and country in America. Now it's just country."
This is the 6th District, home to conservative castaways marooned in a liberal state. Vast and isolated, a land of picture-book vistas and clear-cut principles, its foothills and switchbacks hold a lesson for Republicans and Democrats alike. The 6th has drifted over decades from majority Democrat to majority Republican. Today, its 378,000 registered voters are only 38 percent Democratic. But, like their congressman, pure party fealty does not guide them. It's the self-reliance born of humble beginnings that often stay that way, belief in a God who brooks no shades of gray, and resentment of people who do. These habits of life, more precious than politics, are what make the 6th District feel farther from Washington than the hour drive it is. They are what make its Republican congressman say, only weeks before Election Day, "I love our president, but not everything he does."
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich calls 6th District Republicans "a socially conservative wing of the party."
Ehrlich says he and Bartlett "have a lot of similarities on economic and defense issues. But you'll find differences on social issues."
Dan Rupli, a veteran Democratic activist who heads the John Kerry campaign in the 6th, says the district is populated by "people who feel like nobody out there gives a crap."
Roscoe Bartlett, he says, "is their angry man."
A thin, sprawling slice along Maryland's mountain frontier, the 6th District contains 662,000 people, more than 90 percent of them white -- compared with 64 percent in the state overall -- and 97 percent American-born. Fewer than 5 percent speak a language other than English, compared with 12 percent for the state. One-quarter of people over age 25 have college degrees, compared with 31 percent for the state and more than half in Montgomery County. They work on farms, in factories and in prisons. One quarter of families make less than $35,000 a year, compared with 14 percent for Montgomery County, and just about nobody makes more than $200,000.
In the closing months of his campaign, Bartlett meandered along the campaign trail, meeting the like-minded and hot-headed at open houses and private meetings, veterans' events and county fairs. The 6th begins at the tip of the Appalachian panhandle, with the mined-out mountain slopes and dying industry towns of Garrett and Allegany counties, where one of the district's thousands of war veterans, Paul Cordial, 73, of Cresaptown, waters his lawn and says, "Iraq is a money men's war."
It winds over the mountains into the prison-and-manufacturing economy of Washington County, where Celia Palmer, 50, an electrical contractor in Williamsport, says, "I fought to get a license because they" -- the state -- "didn't think I knew my job." Bartlett, she says, fights "for the little people."
It takes in the exurbs-turned-suburbs of northern Montgomery and Frederick, where Sharon Ramboz, 43, a mom who bought her Christmas presents in the National Rifle Association's gift shop last year, says, "What really kills me is how Kerry's trying to look like a Christian. He doesn't know the Bible. If he did he wouldn't be pro-abortion, he wouldn't be pro-gay rights. Those things aren't biblical."
And the district ends at the Susquehanna River, just beyond the dwindling horse and dairy farms of rural Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties, where Dan Strickler, 74, a part-time farmer from Westminster, says, "When Bush starts talking about giving illegals legal status, I'd almost vote for a third party just to protest."
Soccer moms and prison guards, evangelical truckers and frugal farmers, soldiers, hunters and the poor. People who say Roscoe Bartlett, scientist, gentleman farmer and keeper of the faith, speaks for them.
IN RURAL FREDERICK COUNTY, in a dim barn hung with cobwebs, Bartlett, his thumb curled inside his arthritic fist for a better grip, milks Gigi, a Swiss Alpine goat.
He fills a jar, hands it to his wife, Ellen, and wipes his hands on his overalls. Walking toward the house, running late for work, he takes time to gulp in the view: from the pastures where the goats are grazing, to the barnyard where the roosters crow, to the house where photos of his 10 children line the walls and a songbook on the organ sits open to a hymn. To him, the scene stands for everything he's been fighting six terms to preserve, an ideal of hard work and no free lunch, of faith and family and respect for country.
He was born in Kentucky, the son of a tenant farmer who kept a loaded shotgun at the front and back doors and would "rather have died" than accept charity. "We canned a thousand quarts a summer, or we didn't eat," he remembers. He ran for Congress, he says without irony, "because I was concerned my kids and grandkids were not going to grow up with the same opportunities."
"I'm probably the luckiest congressman down there," he says. "I always vote my conscience, and it's okay with the district."
And if his personal views clash with those of his constituents, he'll vote the district.
He votes for lower taxes, fewer government regulations and less spending, though he supports some agricultural subsidies, because he believes that farmers invest more and earn less than any other business. He supports virtually every position the NRA has ever taken. He voted to authorize the war in Iraq and reluctantly backed the USA Patriot Act. He follows the antiabortion line, though the scientist in him thinks there just might be a way to harvest embryonic stem cells without killing embryos, and votes for federal support for education, even though his strict interpretation of the Constitution would seem to forbid it.
Tall and stooped, with sparse, slicked-down hair and a wispy mustache -- House security once nicknamed him "Vincent Price" -- Bartlett ducks into the farmhouse to change clothes. Ellen Bartlett, his wife of 38 years, leads their visitor through musty-smelling rooms carpeted in old gold shag, through a parlor dominated by her marimba, a large musical instrument that looks something like a xylophone, then up the stairs and past an oak bureau crowned with a photo of the Bartletts with George and Laura Bush. Then up a ladder to a turret at the top of the 32-room house, where the blacksmith who owned it before the Bartletts once hung his hammock. The breeze is cool, washed by a recent rain.
"Nice up here," she says.
Bartlett says he is descended from Josiah Bartlett -- New Hampshire governor, one of the more legible signers of the Declaration of Independence and putative inspiration for the name of the liberal president on the television show "The West Wing." Ellen Bartlett points out that part of the 145-acre estate, called Gayfield, sits on land given by the king of England to Charles Carroll, an architect of the First Amendment.
The house was built in the 1830s, about the time that French author Alexis de Tocqueville is said to have penned the words Bartlett so loves: "Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
The couple met at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, where Bartlett, who holds a score of patents for inventions, including breathing devices used by firefighters and astronauts, worked as a researcher and faculty member. Ellen, 71, was a secretary, a Seventh-day Adventist like him and, like him, divorced, from a preacher who'd succumbed to the temptation of "14 years of Bible study in the middle of the night," her way of describing his extramarital affairs.
Bartlett and Ellen each brought four children to their marriage, and had another two together. One of those, Joe, is a conservative Maryland delegate, who is often mentioned as an heir to Bartlett's job.
Bartlett first ran for Congress in 1982, losing to conservative Democrat Beverly Byron, an opponent turned friend. In 1992, Byron lost the primary to Thomas Hattery, a state legislator whose abortion rights stance and backing by Maryland's Democratic elite inflamed Bartlett and 6th District voters. Anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly and Americans for Tax Reform chief Grover Norquist gave Bartlett his first PAC contributions to run that year against Hattery.
He won, and on election night, Ellen Bartlett recalls, turned up at Byron's home, hugged her and said, " 'I promised you [Hattery] wasn't going to Washington.' She was a happy camper."
As she reminisces, Ellen Bartlett peers through the turret's wooden gingerbread trim at her beloved goats, rearing and charging in the pastures behind the house. It's a commanding view from here: the many-peaked roof, a sweeping front lawn and a phalanx of warehouses advancing toward the property line. The couple recently agreed to sell the estate to a retirement community developer, potentially reaping millions. The deal includes the right to live in the home until their deaths.
Independence, that's the thing, Ellen Bartlett says. "These are independent people out here. They want government to protect them from foreign aggression and then leave them alone. That's what Norquist calls it. The leave-us-alone coalition."
LEAVE US ALONE WAS THE REFRAIN THIS SUMMER in Cresaptown, in the heart of the district and home of the 372nd Military Police Company. Photos of reservists from the unit, allegedly abusing Iraqi prisoners, brought hundreds of reporters to Cresaptown, "looking for Neanderthals," Bartlett says. He's sitting in his Rayburn Building office, whose foyer is decorated with twin turquoise slabs emblazoned with the Ten Commandments and a lithograph representation of the first prayer in Congress. A recent Zogby poll found that 60 percent of undecided voters believe that a president should keep religious values separate from politics. But to 6th District voters, religion and politics go hand in hand.
Bartlett asks an aide to bring him the Bible from the bookshelf in his office. Mixing God and Tarzan metaphors, he proclaims, "The guilty should be punished, but I don't want a half dozen of our people crucified and us thumping our chests."
He's convinced the Iraq prison abuse was ordered by higher-ups. Ken Davis, a constituent from Hagerstown, served in the 372nd. He came to Bartlett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, to say that the abuse was ordered by military intelligence. Bartlett, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) videotaped Davis's statements so future interrogators would not be able to "twist" them, Bartlett says.
Use of such torture is evidence, Bartlett says, that "what we have done is to create a national culture where the end justifies the means . . . We are putting at risk my civil liberties and your civil liberties. It ends with a police state."
An aide returns with the leatherbound Bible, and Bartlett starts thumbing the pages. The seven accused members of the 372nd are "innocent until proven guilty," he says, and even then God will be the ultimate judge. He opens the Bible to Matthew 25.
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory," Bartlett reads aloud, a gnarled finger tracing the lines. "And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."
Looking up, bothered, he says, "I like goats better than sheep. I don't know why goats get such a bad rap in the Bible."
The stray thought is classic Roscoe, as people in the 6th call him, a moment when his quirkiness is on full display. A few years ago at Fort Detrick, a former biological weapons center, he disputed the need for a massive chemical cleanup by saying it wasn't necessary for kids to be able to "eat the dirt." In 1996 he pushed through the Military Honor and Decency Act, banning the sale of pornography in military facilities. Porn king Bob Guccione fought it in the courts for years, but lost.
And in March, Bartlett was one of a dozen lawmakers who attended a reception featuring the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, in which Moon declared himself humanity's Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent, crediting himself with helping Hitler and Stalin be "reborn." Bartlett was shown handing vestments to Moon -- who was convicted in the 1980s of tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and who has called homosexuals "dirty dung-eating dogs." Bartlett's office got calls from infuriated clergy and constituents.
Along with some others who were there, Bartlett said he had no idea that Moon would appear at an event billed as a Washington Times Foundation "Ambassadors for Peace" Awards Banquet, at which Bartlett received an award. He said he did not understand Moon's description of himself as the Messiah because Moon's speech, in Korean, was mistranslated. To not have assisted Moon, he says, would have been "rude." Moments like these cause some, such as Scott Rolle, Frederick's state's attorney, to wonder whether Bartlett is "losing it." For this reason and other career-related ones, Rolle ran against Bartlett in the Republican primary. He ran as the race's self-proclaimed Bush man, pointing to Bartlett's criticism of the Iraq war, his opposition to the death penalty and his problems with the USA Patriot Act.
It was a mistake. The Republicans sent Vice President Cheney to Hagerstown, to appear at a fundraiser aimed at supporting the man who, despite his quirks, garners near-perfect ratings from the American Conservative Union and who, despite his objections, got behind the war on terror. Rolle suspected, and Bartlett denied, that the congressman horse-traded his support of the Medicare reform package for the Cheney grip-and-grin.
Either way, the fundraiser was one of the biggest the district has ever seen, the equivalent of, a Bartlett aide said at the time, "sending a cannon after a fly." People paid $1,000 each for a photo with Cheney, who called Bartlett "a perfect fit for the 6th District." After expenses, Bartlett earned about $150,000, about equal what to Rolle had for the whole race. Rolle lost, 70 percent to 30 percent.
Rolle learned that "issues matter to about 20 percent of the people" in the 6th District, he says. More important, he says, is the sense among voters that Bartlett is cut from the same cloth they are.
In November, Bartlett will run against Kenneth Bosley, a retired Air Force officer. Bartlett is picked to win in a rout.
That's why there's plenty of time, one July afternoon in his Rayburn office, for Bartlett, who says, "I hardly ever get lobbied," to meet with groups that share his views. Today it's Concerned Women for America, whose representative is a man, Robert Knight. He's concerned about a bill that would expand existing hate crimes legislation to cover gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Another slippery slope in the moral landscape of Roscoe Bartlett. Hate crimes legislation, he says, is a form of thought control. "The big problem I have with hate crimes is that they require you to get into somebody's head."
Sitting at the round table in his office across from Knight, he tells him: "There's pressure not to vote against it, so you won't be identified as a bigot. We need to do exactly what you're doing -- educate people."
Knight is on board. Compactly built with a restrained manner and blow-dried hair, his face slick from the day's heat, one can imagine him in Bermuda shorts, calling "O-63" at a church picnic in Loudoun County, where he lives. But today he's dressed for business, and he hands over a news release called " 'Hate Crimes' Bill: A Prescription for Tyranny." Hate crimes laws, he says, "are well on the road to destroying equal protection and setting people up for persecution.
"Did you know you cannot criticize homosexuals on the radio in Canada? Scary -- that's our neighborhood." That's also a slight exaggeration of Canadian law, it turns out.
But Bartlett has his head down, staring at the wood grain of the round table where they are seated, wheels turning.
"That this goes beyond equal protection is another argument that moves me," Bartlett says. "If you start persecuting people for what they think . . . we could wind up not being the envy of the world."
"Here's another thing," Knight says. "It skews resources." Do you think, he asks Bartlett, that an attack "on Grandma" will get as much attention as one on "some gay guy."
"Isn't every rape a hate crime?" Knight asks. "In nearly 100 percent of cases, these guys are juiced up on pornography."
Liberals, Knight says, "want to keep pornography public and religion private." Together, they sigh at the injustice.
They shake hands. Outside the office, under the Ten Commandments plaques, Knight hands over a paper he's written: "BORN OR BRED? Science Does Not Support the Claim That Homosexuality Is Genetic."
"We always come across as heartless," Knight says. But he's concerned about homosexuals, he says. "What you do sexually is fraught with moral consequences." Besides that, he says, "They're vulnerable because of the high level of promiscuity. Anal sex is the worst. The body isn't meant to take that kind of punishment."
"Some people on the far right spend more time fixated on gay sex than most gay and lesbian people do. It's not normal," says Chris Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest organization of gay Republicans in the United States. "It's unbelievable to me that somebody could be so vehemently opposed to" hate crimes legislation.
THE START OF FAIR SEASON FINDS BARTLETT BACK IN CARROLL COUNTY, where he's to meet his friend "Bobby" Ehrlich at the county fair.
Once there, Bartlett's aides call Ehrlich's entourage on their cell phones, back and forth, trying to meet up. Bartlett ignores the hubbub. He's at the county beekeepers' group exhibit, discussing a plague of mites that's decimated hives in the state.
Along comes Ehrlich, tieless and tanned, surrounded by a dozen people, trucking down the cement aisles of the exhibit halls, backslapping like a fraternity president during rush week.
Passing 4-H exhibits of Lego sculptures and snow globes, Ehrlich poses for picture after picture, shouting "Roscoe! . . . Congressman, get over here!"
Bartlett ducks into one photo, but he's busy, talking hay storage with Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Lewis Riley.
Ehrlich gets farther and farther ahead, Bartlett more and more distracted. They reach the sheep barn. Pre-teen 4-H members with tears in their eyes lead bleating sheep while gaggles of people stand, arguing. A farmer, a plug of chew in his cheek, comes up to brief the congressman. Many of the kids can't show their sheep because the 4-H says the tails are docked too short. But the state says the tails are fine. Since when did the rules change? Bartlett walks to a pen and leans over its wooden fence.
"Look here," he says, pointing to a ewe's rear end, explaining the situation to the greenhorns in the group. "When they cough, their tail goes over their rectum." His press secretary, Lisa Wright, looks at him, at the sheep, at her cell phone and at the ground.
Farmers have learned that a sheep needs enough of a tail, he says, "To keep them from coughing their rectums out."
This sheep has too little tail left, and "that's old-fashioned," he tells the farmer constituent. What it boils down to, he says, is the kids "need to know the rules." In this case, change is good.
A few handshakes later, he drifts out of the barn. Another farmer approaches. "You're a reporter aren't you," he says, more statement than question. "I suppose you're here about the sheep issue."
No, sir, just writing about politics.
"Ma'am," he says, explaining what Roscoe Bartlett knew all along.
"This is about politics."
Elizabeth Williamson is a staff writer for The Post's Metro section. Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt and staff writer Matthew Mosk contributed to this article.