It does not seem far-fetched to blame the peculiar behavior of some of our local politicans on a virus. Rather than ending up bedridden like the rest of us, these politicians become infected with an inability to terminate their political campaigns.

"I can win," declares Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer. It didn't matter that he had already lost the Democratic primary election. He had been bitten by the write-in candidacy bug.

"I don't think voters want a complete change of direction," says D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, his head swollen by a bug that has him running for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council.

"I want to see what's available and see in what position I would be helpful to my district," says Prince George's businessman Tommie Broadwater Jr., who lost a bid to regain his seat in the Maryland Senate. Showing the usual symptoms of campaign interminitis, Broadwater says he is planning a write-in campaign.

"The Senate seat to me is a very important issue," he says.

But what, besides the bug, is telling these politicians that they are important? The leaders of their political parties are not, and neither are the voters. In Barry's case, the District's Democratic Party leaders have urged him to withdraw from the council race, retire gracefully and let the city heal after the years of legal and moral controversies that have swirled around him.

But their authority does not matter. In one of the stranger political epidemics to hit our area, prescriptions from party leaders can no longer be deciphered by delirious candidates. Worse yet, losing an election no longer means defeat to them.

"Quite frankly, I don't think Mr. {Neal} Potter is competent to run the county," Kramer said after being soundly defeated by Potter. Pleas for Kramer to withdraw from the race have come from Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer as well as Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Michael Gildea. But no one has found an antidote for Kramer's virus -- which may have also infected his wife.

"I had my arm twisted by people saying, 'You can't let the county go down the drain,' " said Betty Mae Kramer. Apparently blinded by the bug, Mrs. Kramer could not see that people who are strong enough to twist her arm should have had the strength to pull a voting lever for her husband.

So what kind of bug makes fools of men, causes them to selfishly run for office in the face of blatant rejection? A clue may be found in book critic Jonathan Yardley's review of "What Makes Sammy Run?", the tale of a Hollywood hustler dead set on grabbing the brass ring.

"Originally published nearly half a century ago, 'What Makes Sammy Run?' was a shocker, a portrait of 'the American rat' as personified by Sammy Glick, a kid from the New York ghetto who moved West and knifed his way to the top of the still young movie industry," Yardley wrote. "Overnight, Sammy Glick entered the American language as a synonym for greed, moral blindness, cruelty and, above all else, the obsessive, nonstop drive for success in the new world of the mass market."

To be sure, a bite from a purebred Glick bug would probably be fatal. So it must have been some mutant bug that stung our local office-seekers, giving them the fever to serve the public interest even after the public has made it clear that it is not interested in them.

Can a lingering moment in a fading limelight be worth a loss of dignity, family stability and financial resources?

"Those who say I shouldn't run, it's only because they are devoid of issues and want to make me the issue," says Barry, who faces sentencing in two weeks on a conviction for cocaine possession. "Remember, President {John Quincy} Adams ran for Congress. I consider it a promotion to go from being mayor to council member."

Truly, some infections are worse than others.

For years, this inability to let go, to bail out rather than flame out in total humiliation, was a malady affecting politicians and jokesters of national stature. From Harold Stassen to Pat Paulsen, the perpetual candidate has always been something of a laughingstock.

Now the local scene is contaminated as well.

"You just keep trying," says Broadwater. "A quitter never wins and a winner never quits."

And the bug just keeps on biting.