They are not household names, and odds are they never will be.
Robert P. Duckworth, Lee F. Breuer, Christopher P. Fiotes Jr. and James Walker Jr. don't know each other, but they have much in common: They are running for the House of Representatives in Maryland next Tuesday, they are challenging four incumbents who are fixtures on the Washington area political scene, and almost no one thinks they can win.
They disagree and are investing large measures of time and energy to prove the conventional wisdom wrong. None has ever held public office, none has much money and several have very little help. But all believe ardently that, if given a chance, they could make a place for themselves in the Capitol.
"You get a bug that maybe you can contribute to the legislative process," said Fiotes, who worked more than a decade for the Senate sergeant at arms. "You get a feel for what's going on, and you want to be part of it."
Duckworth said that running against a congressional incumbent "is a David-and-Goliath battle. I've got to run against all sorts of privileges . . . . But it's been a pleasure. I believe I have something to offer."
All four face formidable opponents. Fiotes, a Gaithersburg Republican, is challenging 6th District Rep. Beverly B. Byron, a Democrat seeking her seventh term. Breuer, an Oxon Hill Republican, is challenging Prince George's Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat with nine years in office.
Duckworth, a Crofton Republican, is challenging 4th District Rep. Tom McMillen, a Democrat seeking his third term. Walker, a Democrat, is challenging Montgomery Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican seeking her third term.
The four challengers bring varying degrees of expertise and organization to their campaigns, but all four hope to capitalize on widespread public disgust with Congress's performance during the budget process. All describe themselves as outsiders, and hope to turn disadvantages such as lack of money into political pluses.
But none of the four is widely known in his district and all have been generally ignored by their opponents, who have done relatively little stumping. All the incumbents have sizable campaign treasuries, but none has plans to spend significant amounts before Election Day.
The most visible of the four challengers may be Duckworth in the 4th District, which includes southern Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. Duckworth has committed $25,000 of his own money to his campaign, has been active in Anne Arundel civic affairs and is hammering hard at "the budget gridlock fiasco."
Although he is a political novice, Duckworth, 49, has experience in government; he has retired from an administrative job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is an urban planner. He has organized an active volunteer network and is running what he calls "a shoe leather campaign and a shoestring campaign."
Duckworth says Congress's top priority should be "deficit reduction," but calls the recently approved budget "a Trojan horse . . . that increases spending and increases taxes." He also criticizes the congressional pay raise scheduled to take effect next year, saying lawmakers are "rewarding themselves for incompetence."
But few of Duckworth's criticisms are aimed personally at McMillen, who won reelection in 1988 by an overwhelming margin. McMillen has had a relatively smooth two years, including federal approval of a deal that would turn much of Fort Meade into public green space. Brad Fitch, a spokesman for McMillen, said, "This race is not Robert Duckworth versus Congress, it's Robert Duckworth versus Tom McMillen."
Duckworth's campaign also is overshadowed by a close race for Anne Arundel County executive. "It's tough" challenging McMillen, Duckworth said. "But Congress needs to be overturned."
In the 6th District, which includes parts of Montgomery and Howard counties and all of Western Maryland, Fiotes is basing his hopes in part on the explosive growth of the Washington suburbs. Byron's political base is in Frederick; Fiotes says he hopes to do well in Montgomery.
Fiotes, 56, is a Baltimore native who moved to Gaithersburg in the early 1970s. He spent 11 years with the Senate sergeant at arms and has since been a self-employed real estate salesman. He made an unsuccessful race for the House of Delegates four years ago.
But Fiotes's campaign organization is thin -- he estimates he will spend about $2,000 total -- and he says "I haven't been able to pinpoint" how the race is going. Byron has an almost hereditary claim to the Western Maryland congressional seat; both her late husband and father-in-law held it before her.
Like his fellow challengers, Fiotes hopes to capitalize on anti-tax sentiment. "If you want taxes to go up, keep what you got" in Congress, he says. But he offers few specifics about fiscal policies he would change. Although Fiotes has done little to solicit campaign contributions, he says he would not take money from political action committees.
In the district encompassing most residents of Montgomery, Walker is making his second race for the House. He lost in the 1988 Democratic primary, before winning his party's nomination this year.
A Bethesda resident and self-employed real estate broker, Walker, 42, has printed campaign posters that show him smoking a cigarette in a holder and declare, "We Love Jimmy." As in his campaign two years ago, Walker is stressing his concern that "the industrial base of this country has crumbled."
"The standard of living in this country has dropped, and people don't think they have social mobility any more," Walker said. "We always had confidence we could be number one, but now we don't."
Although Montgomery County is heavily Democratic, Morella won her last race against a well-financed Democrat by an almost 3 to 2 ratio. She has also compiled one of the most liberal voting records among House Republicans, taking some stands that are welcome in her district though unusual in her party.
Walker says he detects "a lot of animosity out there" toward congressional incumbents. "I am more optimistic now than when I began," he said.
In Prince George's County, Breuer is running against Hoyer without the official backing of her own party. Although she is a member of the GOP's County Central Committee, that organization endorsed her opponent in the primary.
Breuer, 59, charges that Hoyer and several other Democratic leaders so dominate Prince George's politics that their "political machine" persuaded the Republican Party not to back her. She also acknowledges that she is running in part because of a personal dispute.
She contends that county courts mishandled her late husband's estate, and blames the machine, which includes Hoyer. "Hoyer controls the courts in Upper Marlboro," Breuer said. "The problem with my campaign is the press does not want to print the press releases I'm sending."
Hoyer is the fourth ranking member of the House Democratic leadership, and Prince George's County is overwhelmingly Democratic. Although he faced a high-profile primary challenge this year from a leader in the Nation of Islam, Hoyer won 85 percent of the vote.
Breuer contends that "the press is not telling the voters who the real Steny Hoyer is," but acknowledges that her campaign has established only a minimal public profile. She said, "I'm just going to tell voters what's on my mind."