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Roscoe Bartlett Ready to Fight for His Seat

A few years ago, a website chronicling “100 Things Younger Than Roscoe Bartlett” surfaced. Included among the items that came to be after the octogenarian Maryland Republican’s birth are penicillin, Scotch tape, talkie movies, Fidel Castro and the “American Gothic” painting.

Also on the list: the car radio and Model A Ford.

But in the year 2012, the 85-year-old lawmaker drives a Toyota Prius and often gets his morning news on a staffer’s iPad, not the radio, as he rides to work.

The headlines regarding re-election have been grim for the 10-term incumbent. Thanks to redistricting, ambitious challengers and poor fundraising last year, Bartlett is in about as dire a situation as any incumbent can find himself.

Yet he takes umbrage with the notion that he’s not up to the fight.

“Fire in the belly? Do actions speak louder than words?” he said. “I feel very good about [the campaign]. … We’re going to win this race.”

Bartlett is not merely in the race of his career, he is tasked with creating a modern campaign from scratch.

A lot has changed since Bartlett first won in 1992. Back then, campaign technology consisted of one or two computers and land line telephones. Most homes did not have the Internet or caller identification, and video cameras were analog.

Twenty years later, Bartlett is embracing the latest in technology and social media, including Twitter and Facebook.

He is a walking encyclopedia of his campaign’s internal polls and their crosstabs. He talks strategy and brags on his California-based consultant, Bob
Wickers. And he throws verbal darts at his challengers with mischievous glee.

There is no doubt, if Bartlett goes down in this race, he’ll go down swinging.

Crossover Appeal?

Happily married with 10 children and a farm in western Maryland, the Congressman could have just walked away from it all.

At one point last fall, he asked National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) to name the Republicans who could hold the seat if he retired. Sessions presented with him Maryland GOP Chairman Alex Mooney and Bartlett’s now-former chief of staff, Bud Otis.

Bartlett decided then that he was the only Republican who could win the 6th district — which was made 16 points better for Democrats in redistricting, based on the 2008 presidential results.

Bartlett was quickly placed in the NRCC’s incumbent protection Patriot program, a move that an NRCC spokesman said reflected the committee’s belief that Bartlett is the best Republican candidate.

When he committed himself to re-
election, one of his first acts was to spend several long December days at the NRCC on the phone, dialing for dollars. His fourth-quarter Federal Election Commission report was an improvement, with about $120,000 raised.

Bartlett can’t change the district lines, however. By statehouse Democrats’ intention, almost half of the residents in the redrawn 6th are new to him. They are suburban voters from liberal Montgomery County.

Bartlett insists he is “not unattractive” to Democrats.

He cites his distaste for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the USA PATRIOT Act, military tribunals, the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, imprisonments, the No Child Left Behind Act and the 2008 bank bailouts. He describes himself as “the greenest Republican on Capitol Hill” and is quick to tout his Humane Society Legislative Fund endorsement.

But Bartlett is no liberal. He advocates the elimination of corporate tax rates, he is staunchly anti-abortion, and he is against same-sex marriage. When speaking of his date to the State of the Union, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), he said, “She’s a very nice socialist.”

Ideology will not be his only problem. Many question his physical and mental capacity to serve in Congress.

Bartlett, who holds a doctorate, exhibits a firm grasp on a wide range of policy and appears to be in exceptional physical shape for his age.

Over the course of a November interview with Roll Call, he walked from the Capitol through the House tunnel while 20-something and 30-something staffers rode the subway.

The top two Democratic candidates in the race — state Sen. Rob Garagiola and wealthy businessman John Delaney — said they would not make Bartlett’s age an issue.

But it’s hard to see how the generational divide won’t be raised ahead of the November election, whether it’s tacit or explicit.

‘I Am Who I Am’

Before he can focus on the general election, Bartlett faces state Sen. David Brinkley in the April 3 GOP primary.

At the mention of Brinkley’s name in a recent interview, Bartlett almost immediately homed in on what other Republicans only whisper about: Brinkley’s messy divorce.

But it is Garagiola for whom Bartlett reserves the most contempt.

“They created this thing for Garagiola,” he said, acknowledging that the district was crafted with the state Senator in mind.

Bartlett says he has never met the 39-year-old Democrat. But multiple times he jokingly said he might donate money to the Garagiola campaign.

“My biggest concern is that Garagiola may not win the primary,” Bartlett said. “He’s everything my voters don’t want. … I would debate him a hundred times.”

Garagiola campaign manager Sean Rankin responded that his campaign is confident of victory, even after an expensive Democratic primary.

“When Sen. Garagiola does face Rep. Bartlett, we’re going to win hands down,” he said.

As of press time, Bartlett’s approximately 1,100 Facebook fans were almost more than Brinkley, Garagiola and Delaney had combined. Bartlett for Congress ads are omnipresent on Facebook, which might account for his jump, but regardless, it’s smart campaigning strategy.

His Twitter following is less impressive, but he just joined in January.

“In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’d encourage you to ‘Show the Love'” and donate to the campaign, read one tweet this week.

A staffer stressed Bartlett is involved in social media strategy and is behind its messaging. But the Congressman would not say he actually logs in to his Facebook or Twitter accounts. He is “of another generation” but said, “I understand that’s a very important part of a campaign.”

Even with all the new social media, there are still old-school campaign tactics he employs, including standing on the side of busy roads during rush hour waving a campaign sign.

Before his election, Bartlett was a scientist and inventor, and that background seems to make him more adaptable to the technological advances of the modern campaign. But even as he embraces technology, it presents dangerous vulnerabilities.

He ran into trouble in 1993 with an off-color statement about Asian-American students, and his interviews are some of the most unfiltered among any candidate for Congress.

Staffers assume he will be tracked by opposing campaigns and parties, but they express confidence that it will not be his downfall.

As Bartlett has buckled down, he seems willing to try any strategy, new or old, to win the campaign. Even so, he remains feisty and unfiltered, and Republicans are refraining from showing public concern. His campaign staff and Washington supporters seem to have adopted a “Let Bartlett be Bartlett” strategy.

Or as he puts it, “I am who I am.”

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