WASHINGTON – The American Conservative Union (search) gives Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., a near-perfect score of 96 for his voting record during his 11 years in Congress.
That's not conservative enough for Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle, who is running against Bartlett in the March 2 Republican primary in the 6th District.
Rolle is campaigning as a "consistent conservative" who said, unlike Bartlett, he fully supports the Patriot Act (search) and would not have asked for United Nations approval before the war on Iraq.
The title of most-conservative candidate can be a winning one in Maryland's 6th Congressional District, which has not elected a Democrat to Congress since 1990.
"Most of the people in the 6th District are conservative. Obviously, I want to represent everybody when I'm elected to Congress, but I am a conservative myself, which seems to jibe with most of the views of people in the district," Rolle said during a recent campaign stop.
But Bartlett believes he knows the district as well as anyone after six terms in Congress.
"There is a common denominator in my district," he said. "Most of its people believe that we have too much government, that it takes too much and it regulates too much. They all share a common concern that we do not need a government this big."
His beliefs fuel what he sees as his current biggest challenges -- waging the war on terror without corroding civil liberties (search), and managing government spending better.
Though he voted for the Patriot Act, Bartlett's strict interpretation of the Constitution makes him concerned about erosion of civil liberties.
His views also help explain his stance on Iraq. Bartlett said he voted for the Iraq war resolution (search) because it had strong language encouraging President Bush to get U.N. backing.
"I wanted to go in with either a U.N. resolution or significant Arab-Islamic coalition allies, because I didn't want there to be any risk that this would develop into a war of the United States against the Arab-Islamic world," he said. "If that's the war, we lose."
When the administration failed to get U.N. support, Bartlett voted for an amendment that would have brought Bush back to Congress for a declaration of war -- a power reserved in the Constitution for the legislative branch.
Rolle said second-guessing the president was not the right thing at the time.
"The biggest weapon of mass destruction in Iraq was Saddam Hussein," he said. "We should never sell out our sovereignty to the U.N. When our security is at stake, we should decide ourselves."
Rolle is a first lieutenant in the Army Reserve who serves two days a month, often at Fort Meade. He promised to be a "watchdog" in Congress for veterans and notes Bartlett did not serve during World War II.
Bartlett, a Seventh-day Adventist, said he took a physical while in college and registered for non-combatant status. He planned to be a medic, but was not drafted; He later found out it was because he was the only person in his district attending college and "they decided to leave me there."
Bartlett brushed off Rolle's charges that he has missed 75 percent of the meetings of a small business committee he sits on and that he has not passed "meaningful" legislation during this term.
Because of their schedules, Bartlett said no congressman can attend every meeting of committees they sit on. And because most legislation is committee legislation, he said, very few bills are passed with individual names attached.
As chairman of the projection forces subcommittee (search), Bartlett oversees Navy and Marine Corps programs, among other things, some $30 billion in the federal budget, and has a hand in the annual defense authorization bills, he said.
He rebuts Rolle's criticisms of his leadership and legislative achievements by pointing to the plaques and awards that cover the walls in his office. They come from farmers, veterans and gun-rights activists, as well as science, women's, small-business and conservative groups.
The two men are slated to appear together Feb. 21 on a Frederick radio show, but Bartlett has rebuffed Rolle's challenge for a series of debates, saying he would like to see all the 6th District candidates involved in the debate.
"The seven Democrat contenders and Green [Party] candidate have just as much credibility as Scott," he said.
Win or lose, Rolle believes his candidacy will benefit the Republican Party on the whole.
"A primary in my mind is a good thing for the party. It helps [voters] define where their party is going and what it stands for, and no one can tell me having a choice in an election is a bad thing," he said.
CNS contributed to this report.