Every few weeks during these early months of the 1986 gubernatorial campaign, Maryland attorney general and State House aspirant Stephen H. Sachs points his finger at Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
He points to the company Schaefer keeps, the endorsements Schaefer has not gotten and the places Schaefer would like to see a baseball stadium built as proof that the mayor is chummy with the wrong types of people, is antilabor and hopelessly parochial.
If these accusations were being made eight months further into the campaign -- one that all contenders acknowledge is still in its formative stages -- candidate Schaefer might be forced to respond to his opponent's charges.
Thus far, however, Schaefer's response has been little more than a shrug.
"They'll be potshotting all over the place trying to embarrass [me], trying to make [me] look bad," Schaefer said when questioned on the subject shortly before a fund-raiser. But, he added, "most people know I can't stop being mayor."
One wag from the Sachs camp calls the Schaefer style a "Harborplace strategy."
"The mayor simply believes that the campaign really should not begin until next year," said James W. Smith, a Schaefer adviser. "There is a reason why the filing deadline is June 30."
But already, a pattern is emerging in methods each of the three leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are using to secure the governor's job in 1986.
Sachs, who was outranked by Schaefer 5-to-1 in a Baltimore Sun poll published last month, is clearly on the offensive.
On the night of a Schaefer fund-raiser in Baltimore, he reiterated earlier charges that Schaefer associates with "convicted political racketeers." He was referring to former Gov. Marvin Mandel and Irvin Kovens, codefendants who went to jail on political corruption charges in the 1970s.
Schaefer, when questioned about that link during a luncheon with Washington Post editors in August, credited Mandel with helping Baltimore get its subway and convention center, and described Kovens as "my friend."
"I'm not going to spend a lot of time" discussing Mandel and Kovens, Schaefer said. "That'll be done mostly by those who are running against me."
Two weeks ago in Baltimore, the state AFL-CIO announced it was supporting Sachs. The labor federation's leader, Edward R. Lamon, said that Schaefer supports a subminimal wage for teen-agers, a position that is an anathema to unionists.
Sachs assured delegates to the AFL's Baltimore convention that "The issues are very clear: I am with you and Mayor Schaefer is not."
Schaefer's response was less subdued this time. His advisers worked behind the scenes to try to delay the vote, and the mayor himself responded somewhat testily to Sachs' efforts the day before the vote was cast, saying that his opponents were out to "irritate" him.
As is his habit during campaigns, Schaefer did not mention his opponent by name and did not comment further on the endorsement afterward.
This is frustrating for Sachs' campaign manager, Blair Lee IV, who said this week that Schaefer's lack of response will be self-damaging in the long run because it allows Sachs time to "frame the issues."
The effect of his continued assault on Schaefer, Sachs said optimistically last week, will be a cumulative one.
His charges "have their effect, whether or not he responds," the attorney general said.
Another recurring question before the gubernatorial candiates has been a replacement for Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
Sachs says it is a state facility and should be built outside of Baltimore and closer to Washington area fans.
But Schaefer continues to insist that the stadium stay within the city limits, practically daring anyone to challenge his right as Baltimore's mayor to feel that way. He says he does not mind being called parochial.
"What [Sachs] has tried to do is turn it political," Schaefer said of the site debate. "His advisers tell him to try and make [me] look parochial."
Sachs, of course, coined the phrase "petulant and parochial" last spring in describing Schaefer's pro-city position, and in his commercials, he continues the theme that Schaefer is good for the city, but not necessarily for the state.
"If the mayor engages me [in debate], I'm content," Sachs said. "If not, I think he's abdicating."
Watching these exchanges but otherwise absorbed, thanks to the state's savings and loan crisis, is House Speaker Benjamin L. Cardin, who has also begun a gubernatorial campaign.
"Once again I have lost my candidate," Cardin campaign manager Robert Rombro moaned earlier this week as he watched the special General Assembly session in Annapolis drag on. But Cardin, Rombro said, has his own plans on how best to handle the nondebate between candidates Sachs and Schaefer.
"I'm not interested in knocking Don Schaefer," Rombro said. "I'm not interested in knocking Steve Sachs, and I could probably do a hell of a job knocking both."
Cardin's strategy, he said, will be to quietly emphasize his own strengths while remaining aloof from the squabbling of the two leading contenders. "Our strategy has always been to accentuate the positive, and it has worked to a very large degree.