He talks about the economy, about the budget, about conservatives versus liberals. He talks politics the same way he did during four successful campaigns for Congress during the 1970s.
But for Robert E. Bauman, the campaign of 1982 is not one of issues or ideology, it is not even Bauman versus Roy P. Dyson, the Democrat who removed him from his cherished seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980. It is Bauman versus Bauman, the candidate trying to convince the voters that the congressman who admitted 15 months ago to "twin compulsions towards alcoholism and homosexuality" no longer exists.
"Am I cured?" Bauman asked rhetorically, his voice laced with disgust at the question. "Look, I feel fine. I'm in complete control of my life. I'm not the same man I was before. I've learned my lesson. I've learned painfully. It's cost me dearly in a lot of ways. But I'm a better person now. I've had a chance to take a look at myself in a way few people ever do. That kind of thing changes you. It has to."
Bob Bauman is running hard these days, trying to win the Republican nomination in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. More than anything, he wants a rematch with Dyson, the young Democrat who unseated him one month after federal prosecutors charged him in connection with homosexual acts with teen-aged boys.
Bauman said then that alcoholism was at the root of his troubles. Today, he says he has not had a drink since May 1, 1980. He is continuing to receive treatment for his problems: "I've been involved with a number of groups who have helped me. There was a time in my life when I thought asking for help was a sign of weakness. Not anymore."
Bauman will not talk specifically about what kind of treatment he is receiving. All he will say is, "I'm getting help and I'm a member of a number of groups that are helping me."
He will not say he is cured, because his problems are the kind that "you get help for, you have under control, but you don't say you are cured of them." Before his appearance in federal court on a morals charge (dropped in return for his pledge to seek professional help), Bauman, as a member of the extreme right, had been looked upon as the Moral Majority's most eloquent congressional spokesman, railing against, among other things, abortion and homosexuality.
"Obviously homosexuality is an immoral act," Bauman said. "There's really no point in my explaining why I believe that. But I don't think anyone should be discriminated against, whatever the reason. I don't think a person should be cast out into the darkness because of race or religion or philosophy.
"Anything I've done in my life that transgresses from what I've stood for doesn't change the rightness of those stands. You can't live in the past. If I dwell on the past, God help me. It's over with. I have to go on with my life."
Ironically, when Bauman argues most fervently that he is a new man, he sounds most like the Bauman who stalked the floor of the House, its self-proclaimed "watchdog." He was known during his seven years on Capitol Hill for his conservatism, for his skills as a parliamentarian and for his dogged harassment of the Democratic majority.
But more than anything, Bauman was known for his wit, often so sharp it made both opponents and friends cringe. One of the more famous examples of this came when Bauman was asked if he was going to support his liberal fellow Maryland Republican, Sen. Charles McC. Mathias, for reelection.
"As Ted Kennedy says, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he answered.
Now, in his new persona, Bauman flinches when the instinct to make a comment like that hits him.
"That remark," he said softly, "was cruel."
But the acid tongue is still a part of the Bauman makeup. When someone referred to an overflow of media at a press conference, Bauman said, "surely you mean ogreflow." When the question of his health, mental and physical, came up, Bauman snorted, "In other words, when did I stop beating my wife?"
Bauman knows he is going to face questions about his past during the next few months. He knows too that the absence of his wife, Carol, who separated from him last May, will not make answering those questions easier. In 1980, after Bauman's problems became public, Carol Bauman was constantly by his side on the campaign trail, as if to affirm that Bauman's homosexual activities had been only an aberration, as he contended.
Neither of the Baumans is eager to discuss the separation. "I miss Carol for a lot of reasons, most of them personal," said Bauman, who is still living in the converted farmhouse he bought outside Easton years ago. "I'm smart enough to recognize what her absence will mean to some people and what it will mean to me politically."
Carol Bauman works as a press officer for the Department of Energy and lives in Northern Virginia with the youngest two of the family's four children. The Bauman's oldest son is in college and their daughter Vicky, 16, lives in Easton with her father. "Running again is his decision," his wife said. "He was an excellent congressman before and I'm sure he could be one again."
As to how her absence might affect Bauman's chances of winning, Carol Bauman said: "I just don't want to answer that one."
To understand the 1982 Bauman, one must go back to Oct. 3, 1980. On that morning, in D.C. Superior Court, an assistant U.S. attorney painted a picture of Bauman that was quite different from the image he had enjoyed during his seven years and three months in Congress.
The federal prosecutor spoke not of a crusader for the right, not of a dedicated lawmaker, but of a desperate man, one who had taken to cruising the mean streets of downtown Washington late at night, looking for "action."
The Bauman portrayed to stunned spectators in a packed courtroom was a man who solicited sex from teen-aged boys, who parked his car, bearing his congressional license plates, on the street outside gay bars, apparently not caring whether he was spotted or not.
He was permitted to plead innocent in exchange for an agreement, worked out between his attorney and the prosecutors, that he enter a court-supervised rehabilitation program.
That morning, those 15 minutes as a defendant shattered the public life Bauman had carefully built for 28 years. It turned him from a heavily favored incumbent, a possible candidate for the Senate in 1982, into a political orphan. He went home to Easton and remained in his house there, seeking solitude, for five days. Finally, he emerged and held a press conference at the Tidewater Inn, once the scene of Bauman victory parties.
Alcoholism had driven him to the streets and the gay bars, Bauman told a gathering that included his wife, a priest and a national press corps which trekked across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to record the humbling of the congressman. He had not had a drink since May 1 and was receiving medical treatment for his problems, a statement confirmed by the priest. He was still in the race, Bauman announced, as his loyal but stunned supporters politely applauded.
For the next four weeks, Bauman campaigned, it seemed, 24 hours a day. Carol was at his side everywhere, his children were along at times. He asked forgiveness. He said his troubles had never interferred with his work in Congress, pointing to his 99 percent attendance record.
His fevered campaign brought him back from a nadir in a poll that showed him trailing Dyson by 20 points right after the court appearance, to within 4 percentage points. But it didn't save him. Dyson, a soft-spoken and fresh-faced state legislator, campaigned just as hard as Bauman, and beat him 52 to 48 percent.
The defeat was shattering but there was little shock when the votes were counted. "Losing the election was anticlimactic," Bauman said. "I still don't know how I survived the month of October."
Surviving since his ouster has not been easy for Bauman. This is a man whose obsession with politics goes back 30 years. As a teen-ager, he hid his radio under his pillow to listen to the 1952 Republican Convention late at night without his parents knowing. He remembers going to hear Everett Dirksen speak that year and introducing himself to the senator.
"He Dirksen was supporting Eisenhower publicly, but I knew he was like me, I knew he really wanted Taft to be the nominee. I showed him a Taft button I had on inside my jacket, and he hugged me and said, 'bless you, bless you, boy.' "
It is stories like those that Bauman revels in. In his law office here is his diploma from the Senate page school, signed by Eisenhower. There is a picture of Bauman with Ronald Reagan. At home are more mementos, hundreds of them, pictures with presidents, plaques, gavels. On a wall in the library is a case with credentials from each of the national conventions Bauman has attended. And, in boxes in the garage, still unpacked, are the pictures Bauman had on the wall of his office on Capitol Hill.
Since the election, Bauman and Dyson have engaged almost nonstop in trading verbal barbs and polling claims. Last summer, Bauman released a poll that he said showed that in May 1981, he would have beaten Dyson, getting 55 percent of the vote. Dyson came back with his own poll showing he would win with an even larger margin.
Bauman says he wouldn't be running if he didn't think he could win. "I want to win. I've always loved a good fight and I expect one. But I won't be shattered if I lose."
But those who know Bauman say he was destined to run again and that a defeat would crush him. "He can't live without this place," said one conservative congressman who remains a close friend. "There isn't any way he wasn't going to run again."
Bauman admits that being out of Congress, especially with "the object of our affections" in the White House, is painful. "It took me a long time to be accepted into the fraternity up there," he said. "I'm like the kid with his nose pressed up against the window of the candy store right now. I'd love to be back in."
"I looked around at my life and I said, 'you are 44 years old. What is it that you do well?' The answer is, I was a damn good congressman, an extraordinary one by some accounts.
"People say I shouldn't run. That's their perogative. But if you're a plumber and you break your arm, when it heals you go back to plumbing. You don't quit forever."