Salisbury, Md. — In the quiet, rural flatland of Maryland's eastern shore, where the poultry business is a major industry and hunting a favorite pastime, residents are still felling aftershocks.
Earlier this month, their congressman, Robert E. Bauman, disclosed that he was an alcoholic and had "homosexual tendencies." He had been charged with soliciting a 16-year-old boy in Washington, pleaded innocent, and agreed to undergo six months of treatment for alcohol abuse.
The Bauman scandal is of unusual importance because of the congressman's leadership of the American Conservative Union and his role as founder of Young Americans for Freedom. As a result, he has gained national prominence in the so-called "New Right" movement. And many of his constituents have taken note of this.
In Salisbury, the biggest town in the sprawling First District that Mr. Bauman represents, some observers are predicting defeat for the three-term Republican. But his supporters are not being pried loose easiliy.
W. Blan Harcum, a dairy farmer and head of the Republican Party in Wicomico County, which includes Salisbury, says of the voters: "We know they were disturbed initially. We were all in a state of shock the first couple of days.
"But we've had a chance to see the record. We hope people will think about who can most effectively represent them on the floor of Congress."
Mr. Harcum offers a defense that has been repeated often among Bauman supporters, "We can't say that we approve of it [homosexuality and alcoholism]. We live by the theory that 'Let he that is without sin throw the first stone.'"
Down a winding road just outside Salisbury, the clerk at Bergerson's country store says she has been disturbed by the revelations. "I have a 16-year-old boy ," she says. But she then adds, "I'm not saying I won't vote for Bauman. I don't want to throw him away altogether. I think a lot of people feel the same way."
Ironically, Bauman, who lives in the eastern shore town of Easton, is not extremely popular as a person and is generally considered to be aloof. But the key to his success is that he "knows how to strike a responsive chord" with the people of his district, says Harry Basehart, political science professor at Salisbury State College.
As a state senator, Bauman won attention by proposing that the eastern shore be declared the 51st state -- an idea that was popular among the residents who already felt isolated from the rest of Maryland.
In Congress, he has taken stands that pleased his conservative constituency. He helped push through Congress an amendment to cut federal funding for abortion and has actively opposed gay rights. He has used his masterful understanding of parliamentary procedures to tweak the Democratic leadership and win points for conservatives.
Bauman's Democratic opponent, Roy Dyson, a state delegate, has studiously avoided using the congressman's personal life in the campaign. An energetic campaigner, he has been making the rounds of church oyster platter suppers, Lion's Club barbecues, and firemen's dinners.
Mr. Dyson tells the voters that Bauman favors big oil companies by opposing the windfall profits tax and has a "zero" voting record in federal aid to the elderly. But on many other issues, ranging from abortion to defense, Dyson takes conservative positions that put him close to the congressman.
Still, in the Salisbury area some voters voice doubts about Dyson, especially since he has won the backing of labor unions. Dyson, who ran against Bauman four years ago and lost by 4 percent, has accepted outside funding for the first time this year, including a substantial amount from the AFL-CIO political action committee.
Dyson's press secretary, Sanford Ullman, argues that the unions do not favor Dyson so much as they oppose Bauman. "I think they'd back Genghis Khan against Bauman," he says.
Despite Dyson's refusal to use the issue, the Bauman scandal has brought welcome publicity and money to the Dyson campaign. The Democratic National Committee, seeing a chance to remove an outspoken Republican thorn from its side , has chipped in $5,000.