Two years after Montgomery County had a raucous political free-for-all, with 23 candidates seeking the 8th Congressional District seat, things have reverted to a more familiar pattern:
A Republican - Newton I. Steers Jr. - sits in Congress representing a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1, and five Democratic candidates are struggling to unseat him.
Al Muller, an internist, hands out tongue depressors saying, DR. MULLER, SAY AYE FOR CONGRESS. Mike Barnes tells picnickers munching barbecued chicken that with their help he can represent them in Congress. George W. Benns says with a book he has written and published himself he can stop inflation world-wide, create full U.S. employment and "make these United States number one."
Two other candidates who entered the race shortly before the July 3 filing deadline are Robert J. (Bobby) Roosevelt and Brinton Dillingham.
"The numbers are with us, I think we can do it," said Barnes, 34, whose well-oiled campaign has been rolling for nearly 18 months.
Despite the Democrats' steep numerical registration edge (181,323 voters to 88,493 for the Republicans) the seat has been an exclusive Republican prize for nearly two decades. Part of the reason has been that former Rep. (now Sen.) Charles McC. Mathias and former Rep. Gilbert Gude were both masters of the gentle art of living room conversation and constituent services, so important to politically aware county Democrats.
Two years ago, when Steers ran against Democrat Lanny Davis after the crowded primary field had been weeded out, the normally fractious Democratic party leadership fractured so badly that Steers beat Davis by 5 percentage points.
Steers seemed to be so much in the Gude mold - a liberal Republican of modest demeanor - that no one with any name recognition in the county sought to challenge him, according to one party offficial. Barnes was so unknown when he made his move 18 months ago that one politician with an excellent entenna for county gossip exclaimed, "Who the hell is Mike Barnes?"
Barnes, 34, is an attorney who resigned June 23 from his $35,000-a-year job on the Maryland Public Service Commission to campaign full-time. A 20-year resident of the county, he formerly worked on the national Democratic platform committee, and as a staffer in the Sen. Edward M. Muskie presidential campaign effort.
In March 1977, Barnes sent a letter to 1,400 party regulars announcing his candidacy, and so far has collected about $30,000 in contributions, mainly in $100 amounts. He has also received $1,000 each from a labor union and county land developer.
Recently he handed out 500 campaign brochures at the Silver Spring Metro station, and his face lit up several days ago when one of the commuters recognized him handing out campaign brochures in front of the Chevy Chase Supermarket.
"Every vote counts," Barnes said, as the woman, carrying a bag of groceries, walked by.
Barnes said a computer analysis of Steers' 1976 victory has convinced him he can send Steers back to private life. "Democrats have always had trouble with Bethesda, Chevy Chase, South Rockville, Kensington and some of the new up-county areas. These are persuadable voters, and I can take some of these votes away from the Republicans." He would then win by combining these votes with the traditionally solid Silver Spring/Wheaton Democratic vote, he claimed.
Muller, 36, has his roots in the highrise world of Friendship Heights where he practices internal medicine, and for years has been active in a citizen's group fighting for what it calls "controlled growth" in the area.
His campaign against high density growth in this area of southwestern Montgomery County has given him high name recognition there, he said, recognition that will be augmented by street-corner campaigning and precinct meetings.
"I'm still seeing patients, so the schedule varies from day to day," he said.
At two county conventions at which Barnes was endorsed, Muller made impassioned speeches urging delegates not to endorse anyone, himself included. The endorsement process is "undemocratic" and puts power in the hands of a few people instead of all the voters, he said.
Later, reflecting on his campaign, he said he is fascinated" with politics, and while he intends to win, he also wants his candidacy to help open up political parties to what he said are more "democratic" processes.
Muller also said his campaign will stress the need for greater health care accessibility, more help for elderly persons, and the need for tenant tax relief. He hopes to raise $30,000, mainly in small amounts, and will refuse contributions from the American Medical Association. "The AMA hasn't yet come up with the idea that good health is a right, not a privilege," Muller said.
"The motto of my campaign is 'We Can Do Better'," he said.
Benns, 67, wrote in his self-published book, "Primer for a Peaceful Revolution," that the property tax rate ought to be held to 1 percent of assessed value, the figure contained in the successful Proposition 13 in California.
"I was eight years ahead of them. But I'm going to lose the election because nobody will give me media exposure. When I ran for Congress two years ago I got exactly 21 lines in The Washington Post."
Benns, a former band musician who performed 30 years ago with fan dancer Sally Rand and singer Frances Langford, is a retired carpenter who is "retired because I can't get work." In the full employment economy he advocates, he would not have that problem. His campaign will cost $2,000, he said.
Roosevelt, 66, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1974, and unsuccessfully for Congress from Montgomery County in 1976. His 1976 campaign had an acknowledged antialien theme, captured by his slogan, "Elect an American for a Change." He claimed that 69 percent of the general population, and 75 percent of the candidates for the U.S. Senate were subversive.
Dillingham, 35, a longtime social activist, ran unsuccessfully for sheriff in 1970 on a platform of releasing "political prisoners" from jail. A former probation officer, Dillingham was convicted in 1969 to selling a copy of the Washington Free Press, a nowdefunct underground newspaper, which contained a picture of a naked judge. The conviction in 1970 was overturned on appeal.
The man the Democrats would like to replace, Newton Steers, quietly watches the Democrats' scramble from his incumbent's seat."On my living room wall is a color-coded map, showing where we're strongest, where we're weakest," he said. "We're strongest in the western part of the county, and going to try not to lose too badly in the eastern half."
As the incumbent, Steers cannot only speak at a meeting, he can present a flag "flown over the U.S. Capitol," send free mailings to county residents and hold meetings of his advisory groups, each one appealing to a different bloc of voters.
"There are no real issues I'm going to stress. I'm going to run on my record, and I'm going to run from the office. I visit a different group in the county almost every night. The people want a man in office who works for them," Steers said.