As 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett and his Democratic challenger, Kenneth T. Bosley, took the stage at a retirement community candidate forum in Sykesville on Thursday, the crowd -- like the district -- seemed polite but uninterested.
Watching from the fifth row, Raymond Miller, 91, said he'd come to see what the contenders were wearing. "We do have a dress code here," he said. While the candidates appeared sartorially worthy to him, on the issues, he said, "well, I didn't expect to get very much."
The battle of the septuagenarian farmers -- Bartlett is a 78-year-old gentleman goat farmer, Bosley a 74-year-old dairyman -- is no cliffhanger. So lopsided is the race that if every Democrat who voted for Bosley in the primary did so again and all the Republicans stayed home, Bartlett would still likely win in a landslide.
"The story of my life," Bosley said. "Taking on big projects and big things . . . I've had the odds stacked against me."
Short on specifics, long on outrage, Bosley -- except for his party affiliation -- is typical of the 6th District's angry fringe. The district is a sprawling slice at the top of the state extending from the western panhandle to the Susquehanna River and down to Frederick and rural Montgomery County. Its voters are generally conservative, religious and convinced that liberal Maryland is out to get them.
Bosley, who said he lost his family's Baltimore County farm to yuppie avarice, pledges to save the 6th from developers and sprawl. He also promises to bring more federal cash to parts of the district so poor that developers and sprawl would be welcome. He'd like to limit credit card use and home loans to "people who can afford them." And Fredericktonians, take note: If elected, Bosley wants Interstate 270 commuters with odd- and even-numbered license tags to alternate days on the road. If it's not your turn, you take the train.
It's not clear how he'd achieve these goals. "You have to work at it hard and find out what agencies could assist," he said.
Bosley is barely an annoyance to the six-term Bartlett. As he wandered the campaign trail this summer, Bartlett's staff joked that his goal was "to spend a single dollar" on his reelection. On Thursday, Bartlett pointed to his role in passing defense appropriations bills that have brought tens of millions of dollars into the district, including a $200 million expansion of laboratories in Frederick's Fort Detrick. His pro-gun, pro-military, antiabortion and anti-tax stances appeal to a district where most voters have moved over two decades from conservative Democrat to conservative Republican.
He is perhaps best known for his quirky comments. He told the crowd Thursday: "We are one person in 22 in the world [by population], and we have one-quarter of all the good things in the world. For example, we use one-quarter of the world's energy."
Bartlett beat Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle in the Republican primary. Early on, Rolle, who attempted to exploit Bartlett's tepid support of the Patriot Act and his objections to the death penalty, seemed his first serious challenger in years. Enter Vice President Cheney, who presided over a Bartlett fundraiser in Hagerstown that brought in $150,000, equaling Rolle's budget for the race. Bartlett won with 70 percent of the primary vote.
The Cheney event gave Bosley -- who won 7,500 votes in the Democratic primary, beating six other contenders -- an issue. He said, and Bartlett denied, that the congressman supported the White House's Medicare package in exchange for the vice president's appearance.
Bosley also pointed to an incident in March, when Bartlett attended a reception featuring the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, in which Moon declared himself humanity's savior, messiah, returning Lord and true parent. Bartlett was shown handing vestments to Moon, who was convicted in the 1980s of tax fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Bosley contended that Moon supports the rogue nation of North Korea.
Between developers who would pave over the 6th and Third World dictators bent on blowing it up, "it's unbelievable," Bosley said. He said Bartlett is "a developer himself, and that's how he's able to accumulate his assets."
Bosley's ire points to what is perhaps his biggest reason for running: an abiding anger at the loss of his family's farm.
The farm, one of the oldest in Baltimore County, belonged to the Bosley clan for two centuries. But in the 1980s, news stories from the period say, a dispute between Bosley and one of his brothers divided the family into warring camps. In 1995, after nearly a decade of suits and countersuits, a judge ordered the farm sold. Neighbors pooled their funds and bought the land to protect it, they said, from heavy development. Eventually, one wealthy shareholder bought out the rest, preserved several outbuildings and built a luxury home.
"Our 200-acre dairy farm was taken away by a corrupt judge and a corrupt situation and court," Bosley said. The situation, he said, is proof that "developers have taken over the courts and the political arena in the county."
Bosley has lost several elections for public office, including 1998 and 2000 runs for Congress in the 2nd District -- which included his farm before redistricting -- against Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), now Maryland's governor. In the redistricting that followed the 2000 Census, Bosley found himself in the 6th.
He claims a storied past. A former high school biology teacher, Bosley said he has a bachelor's, a master's and a law degree that took him seven years to complete. He said he has only his dissertation to complete for a PhD and has taken coursework at Harvard. His resume calls him a retired rocket scientist who worked on the Saturn V at the dawn of the U.S. space program, though he said he does not remember exactly which years those were.
Bosley said he spent 38 years in the Air Force, including active duty and reserves. On Thursday, he told his audience he is a Korean War-era veteran who did not fight in Korea but participated in various missions (several too secret to discuss in detail, he said later) in Europe.
These international adventures convince him, he said, that the United States should confine the Iraq war to Baghdad and "handle the rest by air."
"My promise is I'd work twice, triple as hard as Roscoe," he said. "He's been in 12 years now, and he's had a clean shot for reelection almost every time."
Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.