Montgomery County lawyer Robin Ficker, a former state legislator and a longtime tax foe, formally announced his candidacy yesterday for the U.S. Senate seat that Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes has held for more than two decades.
Ficker became the second Maryland Republican to announce a challenge to the state's senior senator, who has said he intends to seek a record fifth term in next year's election. Paul H. Rappaport, the former Howard County police chief, formally entered the race last month.
Ficker said his campaign would focus on several key issues: making Maryland drug-free, bringing high-tech jobs to all parts of the state, curbing wasteful spending and cutting taxes, improving the road network and mass transit, and protecting environmentally sensitive areas such as the Chesapeake Bay.
He made the announcement at stops in Cambridge, Annapolis and Hagerstown and at the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville, where he was joined by his son, Flynn, 17, his daughter, Desiree, 22, and his 89-year-old mother, Olive. He frequently interrupted his own announcement to greet passersby as part of his ongoing effort to shake hands with as many voters in the state as possible.
"The conventional wisdom is not meeting the voters. Many in the press and in the political arena believe that it's more important to collect a dollar than to shake a hand. . . . I don't think so," he said, pausing to hand out a numbered campaign flier and shake hands with Marylander No. 562,425.
If elected, Ficker said, he would continue to meet with constituents for five to 10 minutes each between 5 and 9 a.m. one day a week.
Ficker, 56, was elected to one term in the Maryland House of Delegates in the late 1970s, yet he perhaps is most familiar to Montgomery County voters for a series of anti-tax referendum drives that he led, putting the issue on county ballots in recent years. In 1994, a proposal that would have forced the county to cut income or property taxes nearly passed, falling short by less than 1 percentage point. His more recent measures have gotten less support from voters.
Through the years, Ficker has drawn the wrath of county elected officials who've said his tax-cutting proposals would force damaging cuts in a county known for good public services.
Ficker was also well known outside Montgomery County for his antics as a heckler at Washington Bullets basketball games, where he relentlessly taunted opposing players. His reputation spread so wide that the Village Voice, a New York City weekly, named him one of the "spoilsports of the century" in a recent edition.
Since 1997, though, he has been most visible at sports arenas across Maryland handing out his campaign fliers and shaking hands with voters. Ficker estimates that he has met an average of 600 Marylanders each day in his campaign for the Senate. And he believes this strategy will help him win what he acknowledges is an uphill battle to beat an incumbent senator.
"I'm the only candidate in this race, in either party, who has been meeting the voters at all. I think there's more to running a campaign than having someone call up a few voters," he said.
"When the word of my campaign gets out, word of mouth will prevail."
CAPTION: Republican Senate candidate Robin Ficker is trying to shake the hands of as many Maryland voters as he can.