What can you say about the brave Maryland Republicans who attempted to challenge Mt. Mikulski, the highest peak on the state's electoral landscape for nearly a quarter-century?
That they were ambitious? Idealistic? Or just plain crazy. More, below, about those who tried to scale the heights and wound up falling short. But first, a few words about the latest would-be climbers.
Two men -- Eric Wargotz and James B. Rutledge III -- are actively pursuing the Republican Senate nomination. It won't be decided until the Sept. 14 primary, and there is time for other contenders to surface, with more than two months to go until the filing deadline.
But for now, at least, Wargotz and Rutledge are the only ones filing reports with the Federal Election Commission. Their latest disclosures, covering the period ending March 30, show them fairly closely matched on paper.
Wargotz has raised more (in round numbers, $120,000 to Rutledge's $50,000), but neither is attracting anything remotely close to serious dough.
Rutledge, a Harford County lawyer, has loaned his campaign almost $25,000. Wargotz, a physician, is on the hook for $75,000 of his own money.
Wargotz, a member of the Queen Anne's County Commission, is the more established, while Rutledge, a political novice, is positioning himself as the more conservative choice. Both are traveling the state, raising money and meeting party activists.
If Republicans are going to have a chance against Mikulski, says Wargotz, it will be because the political environment is hostile to the Democratic incumbent, and not because of the money her potential opponents are (not) raising.
That's a good line to take, given that Mikulski has $2.7 million in the bank already and the ability to collect plenty more. By comparison, Wargotz's cash-on-hand is $118,000, and Rutledge has less than $4,000 (and that's before taking their campaign debts into account).
Exactly what do these two hard-working Republicans stand to gain from earning a spot opposite Mikulski on the November ballot?
If history is any guide, not a whole lot.
Sometimes, politicians take on a powerful incumbent with the idea of building name identification. Defeat in a statewide contest becomes a springboard to another office.
If it happens this time, it would be a first.
The '86 Republican nominee, former Reagan administration appointee Linda Chavez, has gone on to a successful career as a conservative commentator. She drew 39 percent of the vote against Mikulski, the best showing by any of the senator's general-election challengers, but that was to be expected, since it was the Baltimore Democrat's first statewide race.
Alan Keyes, her next victim, was on his way to becoming a perennial loser when he drew 29 percent of the Senate vote in 1992, still the worst performance by a Republican against Mikulski. Keyes attracted attention running for the GOP presidential nomination, but he earned his footnote in history as Barack Obama's hapless foe in the 2004 Illinois Senate election.
Ross Z. Pierpont, whose won-loss record proves that name identification in politics isn't everything, eked out 30 percent against Mikulski in 1998. At his death in 2005, the Baltimore physician had set a record for futility--he ran and lost 16 times--exceeded locally only by the '88 Orioles, who dropped their first 21 games, still the worst big-league start ever.
State Sen. E. J. Pipkin got outspent two-to-one by Mikulski in 2004, a decent year for Republicans nationally. Despite investing $1 million of his own money (Pipkin's campaign still carries a $480,000 debt), he picked up just 34 percent of the vote.
If Republican optimists are right, and 2010 turns out to be the party's best mid-term year since 1994, it could be tougher for Mikulski to hit her career average in statewide elections: 67 percent of the total vote.
But a competitive Senate contest in Maryland? As Mikulski prepares to formally launch her campaign, that looks like a mighty tall order.