Theodore G. Venetoulis grabbed the sack of groceries from a woman as she left Magruder's supermarket in Congressional Plaza and carried it to her car, urging her to vote for him for governor in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
"I'm not sure," the Rockville shopper told the Baltimore County executive. "Blair Lee lives in Montgomery County. Maybe we can get something from him. We've been second-class citizens so long because everyone else thinks there's so much money here."
The Magruder's shopper and her suburban neighbors are crucial to Venetoulis' chances of winning the primary next Tuesday. Strategists for Acting Gov. Lee and Venetoulis agree that if Lee gets 60 percent of the votes in his home county, he'll win the nomination. If, however, Venetoulis can hold Lee under 55 percent, and pick up 40 percent for himself in the four-way contest, Venetoulis can win.
Montgomery is important beyond its population in state Democratic politics because it traditionally produces a turnout higher than its more populous Washington area neighbor, Prince George's County, and accounts for about 15 percent of the total in a primary.
Marie Garber, Democratic Member of the Montgomery County Board of Election Supervisors, predicts a 40-45 percent turnout next week, which translates into 75,000 to 84,000 Democratic votes.
The Venetoulis camp hopes to pile up a big margin in Baltimore City, hold a slight edge on his home ground of Baltimore County and capture in the high 30s or 40 percent of the vote in Montgomery.
"If we do that, we will have succeeded," Venetoulis said during breakfast Wednesday at the Helen of Troy restaurant in Silver Spring, one of his favorite Greek eateries in the area.
"Our goal is 60 percent," said Kevin Maloney, Lee's Montgomery campaign manager he is counting on a continuation of Lee's string of victories in state legislative races and as lieutenant governor to provide him with the bulge that will make him the first Montgomery resident ever elected governor.
On the Republican side, the hometown advantage isn't expected to be enough to help Louise Gore of Potomac win her party's gubernatorial nomination for the second consecutive time.
Support for former U.S. senator J. Glenn Beall is "absolutely overwhelming and total," according to State Sen. Howard Denis of Bethesda, who is the only Republican member of the legislature from the Washington suburbs.
Lee and Venetoulis' advisers in Montgomery say that the two other candidates, former state transportation secretary Harry R. Hughes and Baltimore City Council President Walter S. Orlinksy, are not in contention in the county.
Venetoulis dismiss them as "irrelevant and frivolous candidates," and Maloney of the Lee campaign said, "I'll be surprised if they get 10 percent between them."
Sam Bogley, the Prince George's County councilman who is Hughes' lieutenant governor running mate, conceded at a party in Bannockburn Wednesday night that "it may be a two-man race between Lee and Venetoulis."
Orlinisky's campaign managers in the county, Linda Katz and Betty Kramer, won't predict how their candidate will fare, but believe a lot of voters are still undecided.
Most of the candidates for lower offices on the gargantuan ballot have avoided public announcements of support for any of the gubernatorial candidates, but Jay Bernstein, who is running for the House of Delegates, said "nearly all of us are voting for Blair."
Bernstein believes Venetoulis "had a lot of mementum in June and July, but he peaked. It's over. Lee is the winner," Bernstein said.
Support for Lee among party leaders is not unanimous, however.
One county Democratic officeholder said "it's a quandary." While accepting the almost universal belief that Lee personally is honest, he said "Blair has kept almost every patronage tie" that he inherited from the administration of his convicted predecessor, Marvin Mandel.
"I'd like to vote for Hughes," he said, "but I think he's out of the running, and I'm not sure I can bring myself to vote for Venetoulis," whom he viewed as being "more shadow than substance."
Another party leader said Lee has been a "marshmallow" in dealing with cronies of Mandel, but she said "I'll probably vote for him with reluctance" although she believes Hughes is the better candidates.
"I'm just sorry Hughes didn't get his act together sooner," said a court-house employe in Rockville.
Lanny Davis, the party's unsuccessful candidate for Congress two years ago who now is active in the Venetoulis campaign, credits Lee with "doing a very good job of solidifying the base that essentially is happy with his image of the trustworthy, honest, not flashy old shoe. He's doing nothing too negative or strident against Ted."
Jim Dougherty, the county Democratic chairman, believes Lee is taking full advantage of his old-line family name. "I'm reading "Chesapeake," and there is Blair Lee in it," Dougherty said.
Dougherty also said Lee has the benefit of having "three opponents with the same appeal" who will split what anti-Lee vote there is.
Maloney, a 30-year-old friend of Blair Lee IV, the acting governor's son and campaign confidant, said Venetoulis "has not addressed himself to the serious and complex problems, including taxation."
Instead, he said Venetoulis has tried to make an issue of corruption, but "that doesn't work here. You don't tell people in their own back yard" about someone they have known as long as Lee, Maloney added. "The voters know Blair Lee is a very honest man."