In Maryland, where politics sometimes takes a different twist, Edward T. Conroy, the Democratic outsider, is doing his best to become the conservative alternative to the liberal Republican U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias.
Conroy even relishes being called Maryland's own Henry (Scoop) Jackson, comparing him to the conservative Democratic senator from Washington state.
"I think that's a fair evaluation," said Conroy at that suggestion. "I'm proud to have that tag."
So in a year when conservative Republicans are baying at the heels of liberal Democratic incumbents in Senate races around the country, in Maryland, Democrat Conroy is merrily carving out the conservative position on such issues as defense and the economy.
"You know it's not very hard to be on the right of Mathias," Conroy's campaign chairman, Dennis Devaney, chuckled yesterday. "Being at the center puts you on the right of Mathias."
Yet the popularity of the liberal Mathias, a two-term incumbent, has always proved potent, piercing deep into the ranks of the state's Democratic constituency. He has handily won two Senate terms in a state where more than two-thirds of the voters are registered Democrats.
Conroy readily acknowledges he's the underdog, but his aides believe that the key to a November victory is packaging their candidate as a "traditional Democrat" who can also win favor with the kind of constituents who will vote for Ronald Reagan for president.
"Ed Conroy needs to get the ethnic Democratic vote in Baltimore, the steelworker who works in Dundalk or who's out of work right now, who may vote for Reagan at the top of the ticket but will come back to a Democrat who is for a strong defense, improved economy and jobs," Devaney said.
In an interview yesterday, Conroy outlined, as he does at every opportunity, his views on the issue of a "strong defense" -- an issue his polls have shown is uppermost in the minds of the voters.
The state senator from Prince George's County said he favors an overall increase in defense spending as a way of preventing future wars.
"In the same vein, I want it to be effective spending," he said.
In a campaign where money is hard to come by and the incumbent already has drawn support from traditional Democratic sources such as labor, Conroy's stance has won him a $3,000 contribution from the political action committee of the conservative American Security Council.
On issues like defense and his stand against abortion, Conroy finds himself closer to Ronald Reagan's views than those of the man likely to head the Democratic ticket.
Although Conroy concedes this, he shies away from any identification with the Republican presidential nominee.
When asked whether Reagan was likely to carry his home county of Prince George's Conroy said he doubted that the federal workers and blue-collar workers living there would vote for the GOP nominee.
"There's a message that has to be carried in the next few months," Conroy said. "Is Ronald Reagan better for the federal employe than the Democratic administration? Is Ronald Reagan better for the working man than Jimmy Carter? I doubt that."
But that was Conroy's strongest praise of the president, from whom he seems to be keeping his distance, too.
Though an early supporter of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's fight for the presidential nomination, Conroy has maintained a middle ground since entering the Maryland Senate primary last March.
"I'll support the nominee of my party," he said when asked about his views yesterday.
"I'm in the race as a candidate for U.S. Senate. That's my primary goal."