For 22 years, a Byron has represented Western Maryland in Congress. Rep. Beverly B. Byron, who followed in the footsteps of her late husband, figured to keep the tradition going strong for at least another two years.
She set out for an eighth term much like she's run all her other races. She was conducting no polls. She was running no attack ads. She didn't even use billboards as she once had asking voters for their support.
And all of a sudden she found herself a lame duck, the first woman to lose a U.S. House seat since 1984.
Byron, 59, ran into a Young Turk from her home town of Frederick, a little-known state delegate named Thomas H. Hattery, 38, who flat-out outhustled the veteran lawmaker.
Hattery's 56-to-44-percent victory in Tuesday's Democratic primary came a dozen years after he mustered 12 percent of the vote in a primary with Byron. Hattery studied hard after that loss, won election to the House of Delegates in 1983 and waited in the back rows of the General Assembly for a rematch.
"He picked the right year," said Byron's campaign manager, Hap Connors. "It was the 'anti' year."
Hattery tapped a potent vein of voter discontent that had grown with the recession. Unemployment in the 6th District, which includes all of Western Maryland, Frederick and Carroll counties and parts of Howard County, averaged 9.1 percent in November, three points higher than the rate statewide.
The Byrons have had a long run in Maryland: The parents of Beverly Byron's late husband, Goodloe Jr., represented the district in the 1940s. He held the seat from 1970 to 1978. But the recession aggravated nagging concerns in Western Maryland that Beverly Byron was beginning to take the folks back home for granted.
"I think she got a little lackadaisical," said Hattery supporter Thomas D. Kline, 30, who heads a highway construction company in Frederick. "You could only get her to call you once a year" at fund-raising time.
The Klines and Byrons once were close. Byron said she remembers taking Thomas Kline to Cape Canaveral when he was young to watch a rocket launching. "I drove him all the way there," she recalled in an interview last month. "Times change, I guess."
The discontent was palpable enough that even longtime Byron supporters such as former Democratic state senator James Clark Jr., of Howard County, broke ranks. "I think it upset her, but I told her I felt we needed a change in Washington. I don't see how we are going to get results unless you send a message that we want things done differently."
To build on that dissatisfaction, Hattery put on an ad campaign designed to play on the idea that Byron was out of touch. Radio spots running in the final days mimicked the television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and questioned Byron's far-flung travels and acceptance of a $35,000 pay raise.
At the same time, Hattery sought to distinguish himself from his opponent, touting a middle-class tax cut, national health insurance and the right to abortion.
Hattery, who runs a 350-acre cattle farm and small publishing company, had cultivated an image as a friend of the middle class. He shuttled too and from campaign events and his duties in Annapolis in a 1981 Oldsmobile Delta 88, proudly citing its mileage. He also could not resist showing reporters the made-in-U.S.A. labels in his suits.
"The people out there are disgusted with Congress and its perceived inattentiveness to ordinary hard-working people. And I think to a large degree they are right," he said yesterday.
Byron initially tried to ignore Hattery's attacks, but in the campaign's waning days ran radio ads that called Hattery "Taxing Tom" for his role on the Ways and Means Committee. And she finally commissioned a poll, which showed she was in a real fight.
On Election Day, Hattery's real strength became evident. He had assembled an impressive grass-roots get-out-the-vote organization from groups that took issue with Byron's deep conservatism. Liberal-to-moderate Democrats, environmentalists, abortion-rights supporters, union members, nurses, teachers and activists for the disabled worked the polls for Hattery.
"As a state delegate, Tom has been a great supporter of disabilities issues. He sponsored the first bill to set up a telephone-relay system" enabling the deaf to communicate with the hearing, said Cindy Mease, of Hagerstown. "We wanted to show our thanks."
When Hattery's win was official, his supporters immediately began to wonder aloud why Byron had not fought harder. "They had to know for years that he was going to run. Our biggest fear was that she would try to get another challenger to enter the race to split the vote," said Hattery campaign adviser Frederick H. Hoover.
Hattery now faces Republican Roscoe G. Bartlett, 65, who lost to Byron in 1982 in the November general election. As a result of last year's redistricting, Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 1,000 voters.
"You have a contest pitting a very articulate spokesman for the liberal position against a very articulate spokesman for the conservative position. The voters don't all that often have such a clear choice," Bartlett said.
Byron could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, she said in an interview before the election that many of her constituents probably don't appreciate her work on Capitol Hill, where she is the first woman to head an Armed Services subcommittee.
"I go home and I get beat up. Down here, I'm wonderful," she said.
During an Armed Services hearing yesterday, she took a parting shot at the voters who ushered her out of office, according to the Associated Press:
"The American public does not understand what we're doing. The American public thinks we're dollar-driven, that we can take the uniforms off the people that are volunteering for service . . . . The American public thinks that those people coming out of uniform don't have faces and don't come from communities," she said to applause from fellow members of Congress and military leaders.