U.S. Senate candidate Allan Lichtman is full of contradictions.
He is a political outsider who is critical of his opponents in the Senate race for being political outsiders.
He’s an even stronger critic of the political establishment, and while he is not a part of that establishment, he does have the on-message air of a political veteran. His stump speech phrases: “George Bush and his allies … have built the biggest, most intrusive and least responsive government in the history of the United States,” and, “Too much government intruding in our private lives, too little government meeting our needs.”
Yet there is this: a grassroots campaign, a frequently professed dedication to the principles of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, and a $200,000 second mortgage on his west Bethesda house. If his Senate run is a whim or an act of vanity, it’s an expensive one.
“I’m a tenured full professor. I already have the greatest job in the world,” said Lichtman, who teaches history at American University. In other words, there’s no reason to run except that he thinks he can make a change and he thinks he can win.
Lichtman was prepared for the follow-up question. He gets it 10 times a day. How can a major underdog — in terms of money and statewide recognition — win?
"FIRST OF ALL, political dynasties fall in Maryland. You don’t hear too much about Congressman Shriver, do you? He supposedly had that election wrapped up against Chris Van Hollen [in 2002],” said Lichtman, whose wife Karyn Strickler was finance director for Van Hollen’s campaign. “Favorites don’t win in Maryland. … Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Kennedy dynasty, lost to Bob Ehrlich. Paris Glendening, you know our governor for eight years, he wasn’t the favorite. … Barbara Mikulski wasn’t a favorite. She was in a very tough field.”
“Underdog candidates often win. And why am I going to win? Because I think the people of Maryland are yearning for a different kind of candidate,” he said. Lichtman has said that if elected, he will meet with Maryland voters in person, in their communities every month and he will not accept any money, goods, or services from lobbyists.
Lichtman talked in his Rockville office last month about why he considers himself different and what he would do to reinvent politics in Washington.
Q: Doesn’t U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin have advantages as the perceived frontrunner?
A: The establishment has kind of rallied around him. … In most times that would probably suffice. I don’t think that suffices today. People are tired of the same old conventional politicians and the same old ways. … I came out two weeks ago against [then Supreme Court nominee Samuel] Alito. Cardin still hasn’t taken a position. That’s the old politics: straddle the issues, take no stand. To send him to Washington would be like throwing a pebble in a pond. You get a little bit of ripple and then nothing.
Yeah I might not win, of course that’s true. But Cardin might not win. … Whacking at Bush and presuming a Democratic nominee is going to back into the Senate election because Bush is unpopular is a recipe for defeat. That’s why we need a contested primary. When you anoint candidates, they’re not tested. They don’t have to stand for things.
Q: What about money? You’re a political scientist. Hasn’t someone done a study to show a correlation between fund-raising and success in elections?
A: There is a correlation. … But it’s a correlation. It’s not absolute. Paul Wellstone won — the college professor who was very much politically involved but wasn’t an office holder. He was wildly outspent.
It’s not like I’m going to have no money. I’m not going to match the big money candidates.
You know, I’ve been a political analyst and this is not something I cooked up for my camp — I’ve been saying this for years: Never vote for who you think is going to win. First of all you don’t know who’s going to win. Elections often surprise us. Secondly, if you vote for someone who you think is going to win and you don’t really believe in them, you’re going to feel miserable if they lose.
Q: What do you think the lesson was for Democrats in the 2004 presidential election?
A: You’ve got to stand for something. Kerry was a very articulate candidate, a very experienced candidate. No one knew what the Kerry vision was. … There was a Bush vision out there. A lot of Democrats disagree with it, but there was a Bush vision out there.
Q: You’ve talked about reversing a trend of corruption in Washington. How much can one person do to change things?
A: I’ve been saying it’s better to light a single candle than forever curse the darkness in Washington. I’ve made certain pledges that I think make me stand out.
One, … I’ve pledged every month I’m going to go to a different part of the state and simply meet with the people and listen to their concerns. No favorites. I don’t care if you gave me a thin dime, didn’t vote for me, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to meet with you.
Two, … I’m not going to take anything from lobbyists. No skyboxes, no trips, no concerts, no meals.
[The Republican plan to undo lobbying corruption in Washington is] a joke. Dennis Hastert, swimming in lobbyist money is going to undo the lobbyist corruption? Until you send different kinds of people to Washington — We’ve been passing laws on this stuff ever since the Nixon era and it’s done no good, because you’ll always find your way around any law if that’s what you want to do.