Will the citizens of Scaggsville take to the streets, shouting their support for Harry Hughes' plan to create a department of commerce for Maryland?
Could upper middle-class homeowners in Potomac, whose property tax bills are cramping their vacation plans, put together a petition drive insisting that Louise Gore's special citizens convention on taxation be called?
No gubernatorial candidate really expects scenarios like these. The voters of Maryland are hardly astonished by the issues and solutions floating around in 1978. They care, to be sure, but they have content to listen, not march, and to be ambushed by the gubernatorial hopefuls at shopping malls where the prepared statements are handed out or at their doorsteps where the pamphlets lie in waiting.
Yet now, one month before the Democratic and Republican primaries, the candidates are getting itchy. Hughes, a secretary of transportation, called a press conference recently to complain that the issues were not being discussed enough, either by his challengers or by the press.
Hughes' painstaking attempts to set himself apart from the other candidates solely on the positions he has taken illustrated how close most of them are in their philosophies and how soft the issues have proved to be.
When asked, for instance, how his economic development plan differed from those of his Democratic opponents or even the Republican contenders, Hughes was left with only his proposal to create a new department of commerce. Running down the entire list of issues - high taxes, the legacy of official corruption, how to spend the revenue surplus - Hughes found few true divisions of opinion among the candidates.
Theodore G. Venetoulis, the Baltimore County executive and main challenger to Acting Gov. Blair Lee III, was berated most often by Hughes. "No candidate who promises 145,000 jobs if elected can be taken seriously," Hughes said.
Only at the tail-end of the 45-minute conference, when prompted by a reporter who asked why Lee had been spared criticism after he had proclaimed a boycott on position papers - the kernel of Hughes' presss conference - did Hughes speak out against front-runner Lee.
"(Lee's position) smacks to me of the old way of running elections in Maryland. You buy them. You don't worry about issues or debates. You get all the endorsements and spend a ton of money and buy the election," Hughes said.
Later, one of Hughes' campaign aides explained the strategy behind selectively attacking Venetoulis on issues. "Venetoulis is looking more like a front-runner than even Lee," said Joe Coale. "Venetoulis is the one we should be after."
Behind the complaint of shallow debate on issues lay the strategy of Hughes' campaign.
With only one month before the primary, the candidates have all adopted similar poses, have all staked out their own strategies for bringing off a victory.
Take Lee. He did say earlier that he did not plan to issue position papers; the press and the public could be counted on ignoring them.
During his 1970 campaign with suspended governor Marvin Mandel, the two put together white papers on a variety of issues and "not a single word was used by any newspaper or television station," said Lee.
Instead, Lee is running as an incumbent, standing on his record of eight years as Mandel's lieutenant governor and the last year as acting governor. He has used his weekly gubernatorial press conferences to object to others' statements and clarify his own positions.
"The problem," said Pat McGrath, campaign press secretary for Lee, "is that Lee's style is pretty spontaneous. He tends not to do much long-range planning. He'll answer issues as they come up."
Lee's style of campaigning is not sitting well with the Venetoulis headquarters. Jackie Smelkinson, the campaign manager for Venetoulis, complained that Lee is "acting like the imperial governor.I think the voters let it be known how they felt when Nixon headed the imperial presidency."
Venetoulis, on the other hand, has been printing the largest collection of issue papers of any candidate, papers that are too often half-rhetoric, half-substance. He is canvassing some districts, his campaign workers are canvassing others. His opponents complain that he is insubstantial.
Smelkinson says other candidates should attack Lee, not Venetoulis. "Lee is the front-runner, not Ted. I think Wally Orlinsky is going after Ted in a petty, vindictive way."
Orlinsky, the Baltimore City Council president, is following much the same strategy as Hughes. He, too, feels the press and candidates are not talking issues.
He, too, is attacking Venetoulis more often than Lee but his reasoning is different. "Ted gives me more openings," he says.
Also like Hughes, Orlinsky is considered a major contender either in the polls or by the political establishment. Orlinsky thinks he is; he believes the final contest will be between himself and Venetoulis. "How can you seriously believe a poll that says I have no strength in East Baltimore," Orlinsky said last week. "I'm taking away votes and I'm taking them from Lee."
Within these strategies is an unspoken alliance between Hughes and Orlinsky, the underdogs, to work in concert and not set upon each other. Since Lee has chosen silence on a number of issues and since he failed to show up at the first televised debate for the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Venetoulis has been the target.
Smelkinson worries that Orlinsky and/or Hughes is out to spoil Venetoulis' chances, not to win the primary. Hughes denies this. Orlinsky says "Venetoulis is spoiling my campaign."
All four are lining up for the final round.