Bob Bauman, every hair in place, dapper as always in his trademark blue suit and vest, shifted slightly in the chair and pondered the suggestion of the small-town newspaper editor.
"So, the word's out that I've mellowed, eh?" Bauman said. "God forbid that should get around. We can't have those rumors spreading, can we?"
The former three-term Republican congressman laughed, more as a punctuation mark than anything else. It was a signal that he wanted to be serious. He leaned forward in the big chair. "We all have to grow up sooner or later. I'm just trying to be me. I guess I've changed. I don't think I have to save the world anymore. I'm just trying to live one day at a time and I've never felt better in my entire life."
The interview ended without any mention of the events of 16 months ago that led to the abrupt end of what had seemed to be an invincible career in the House -- Bauman's arrest in Washington on a morals charge, and his subsequent statement that he suffered from "the twin compulsions of alcoholism and homosexuality."
Don Herring, editor of the Cecil Whig, said, "I think he's already answered those questions, over and over again."
But not everyone is silent.
Some Republicans, fearing that Bauman would lose again in a rematch with Democratic Rep. Roy Dyson, are hoping to deny him the GOP nomination. C.A. Porter Hopkins, a former state senator, already has announced his candidacy, and Robert Cook, a Salisbury businessman, is expected to announce.
Del. Lou Riley (R.-Wicomico), a long-time Bauman supporter, said, "I really don't understand why he [Bauman] is doing this. I just can't see myself supporting him again. I'm sorry to say that, but it's the way I feel. He created his problems, so he has to solve them."
Another Republican state legislator said, "I stood up with him when he announced he was running, but I'm not sure why I did. My wife was pretty upset with me."
Bauman says he does not think Hopkins is a serious candidate. "He said he's running just to stop me, I don't think that's a reason to run for Congress."
Hopkins said that is not his only reason: "I'm running because I think the people of this district should be able to make a choice. Am I running just to keep Bauman out? No. Is his presence in the race a factor? Yes, most definitely.
"I don't think he could be more wrong in thinking his problems of the past will be forgotten and will just go away. I don't think a person's personal problems should be foisted off on the people of this district, the Republican Party or national politics in general.I feel embarrassed that the people of this district are going to be put through this kind of thing all over again."
Bauman would like to ignore Hopkins and campaign strictly against Dyson, accepting the widely believed premise that Dyson won only because of Bauman's troubles.
Dyson, 33, says not so. "This may sound crazy, but in some ways I think what happened may have helped him," Dyson said. "Our polls showed us leading before he went to court. After he did, voting for him became a party obligation because people knew he was in trouble.
"The toughest thing for me campaigning [in 1980] was convincing people I needed their vote. A lot of people assumed I had the election won and didn't vote. Bauman's people knew he needed them so they made sure to vote."
Bauman predicts he will beat Dyson because people will remember his record in Congress first, his troubles second. "I know what the odds in this race are. There's no question that I've polarized this district because of what's gone on. But strangely, because of that, I feel like I control the race. What happens is going to be in response to what I do. People are going to be watching me, listening to me and reacting to me.
"People are good," he added. "They forgive."
People may forgive, but his poll also shows they don't forget. One of the questions on the poll was a true-false: "Bob Bauman is a homosexual." Forty-seven percent answered true; 40 percent weren't sure and only 12.5 percent said false. In a district as conservative as the 1st, that means Bauman has a problem.
Because Dyson won by less than 5 percent, he is one of 40 Democratic incumbents targeted by the Republicans as vulnerable. But before Bauman can get any national Republican help, he must win the primary. President Reagan has ruled that there will be no national party intervention in primaries, so Bauman must do without the help of his fellow conservative ideologues who now are in high places. Even if he wins in September, Bauman is unlikely to receive the national support he did in the past, as when Reagan appeared at a Bauman bull roast.
"He would like to pretend there is no primary and just run against me," Dyson said. "But he's got to win the primary and that may not be that easy. I think I've already won the battle when it comes to Bob Bauman. I think he's going to find that out the hard way."
Bauman, acknowledging that Dyson is a good campaigner, has been doing things ever since he announced his candidacy Nov. 23 that he has not done in previous campaigns. He is calling former contributors personally, asking for money. Some have asked to see him in person. Victor Nily, an Easton real estate man, was one of those people. He not only contributed but agreed to become Bauman's finance chairman.
"I really wasn't sure what I was going to do when Bob first called me," Nily said. "But after I sat down and talked to him, I felt good and I felt like he was really ready to campaign. I think people need to see Bob to understand that he really is okay."
Money is a definite factor in this campaign. Bauman only recently retired his 1980 campaign debt. Working without the built-in advantages of incumbency, Bauman says he will need to raise at least $400,000 this year. A first mailing of 38,000 letters and Bauman's telephone calls to past contributors have produced about $40,000.
Physically, Bauman looks fit. In Congress, he weighed as much as 180 pounds, which on a man just under 5-feet-7 produced an appearance politely described as chunky. He now is down to 145, but his face, framed by wire-rimmed glasses, is still round, and slightly haggard.
The trim, new Bauman says he is ready for the rigors of a campaign in a congressional district that covers more than half of Maryland, stretching at its northern tip from the Pennsylvania line south along the Chesapeake Bay to Virginia.
Bauman refers to the cause of his demise only in the most oblique terms and only when pushed. Rarely is he pushed.
Bauman and his campaign manager, Luis Luna, are the only fulltime members of the campaign staff at this stage. For now, most of his appearances are carefully orchestrated to keep Bauman in comfortable situations. On a recent day, during which Bauman spent 12 hours traversing the district, not once did anyone -- newspaper editor, radio reporter, bartender, clothing plant owner, college student -- bring up the events of October 1980.
The day did not start perfectly, though. Racing to the first appointment, Luna, driving Bauman's car, was stopped for speeding. He got off with a warning.
"He [the policeman] was at the press conference," Luna said as they drove off.
"Which press conference?" a passenger asked.
"The press conference," Bauman answered.
The memory of 1980 lives.
Bauman has been pounding away at Dyson, branding him a "liberal," at every opportunity, even though a Congressional Quarterly poll showed Dyson taking the conservative side on issues 92 percent of the time.
"That's still quite different from my 100 percent," Bauman said.
In an old clothing plant in the tiny town of Rock Hall, Bauman stood in the tiny office wincing as he sipped reheated coffee and asked Jay Elbert, the owner, a Democrat but long-time Bauman supporter, how things looked.
"Well," said Elbert, "I ain't heard nothin' derogatory been said, so I guess that's a good sign."
Bauman forced a smile.
Brochures in hand, he walked among the seamstresses, offering his hand. The reactions were varied. Some eagerly clasped his hand ("Congressman Bauman, how are you, dear?"), some were coldly polite, some appeared annoyed at having their work interrupted.
The next stop was Elkton, on the Delaware border. Walking along the main street, Bauman ran into many old acquaintances.
"Is it that time again?" one woman asked.
"Ground hog day," Bauman said. "That's when all the politicians come out to see if they can see their shadows." He was relaxed now, having fun, literally working the street.
About 20 people, most of them elderly, showed up at a coffee at Cliff and Elsie Buckworth's. Bauman couldn't stop raving about the food. As he circled the bright, comfortable living room, Elizabeth Willis, who moved to Elkton after she married her husband Arnold in 1937, watched his every move.
"I didn't vote for him last time," she said. "I couldn't do it. I just couldn't understand how he could do that. I was shocked, so shocked. But I'll vote for him this time. My husband convinced me. What matters is what you do in Congress, not what you do in private life."
Bauman had one more stop to make before going home, at the funeral in Easton of his old high school principal, Merlin U. Zimmerman. "I have to go," Bauman said. "I remember back in 1953 he was the one who convinced me I should ask Senator John Marshall Butler to appoint me as a page. He really started me on this road."
It was dark now and, thinking back to 1953 and ahead to the funeral, Bauman appeared reflective. The subject had changed to Congress, specifically his behavior on the House floor, where once he literally howled like a dog to emphasize his watchdog title.
"I guess there was a time in my life when I fought just for the sake of fighting," he said. "Who knows why you do that? I'm not a psychologist. In some ways, if I get to go back, I'll do things differently, I suppose I'll have to. But in a lot of ways I'll still be the same."
But would he howl again on the floor of the House of Representatives?
Bob Bauman smiled in the direction of the rising moon.
"One way or another, in one form or another, I'm going to howl in Congress again."