Room to room and desk to desk, Baltimore County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson made his way though the Wicomico County office building here this morning, grasping the hands of clerks and council members alike.
"I'm Don Hutchinson. I'm a candidate for the United States Senate. Nice to see you," he told one bearded surveyor.
"You a conservationist?" asked the man, looking up from his drafting board. "Yes I am, as a matter of fact," replied Hutchinson.
"Glad to hear that," said the man, rising to shake hands.
Ten months before the primary, Hutchinson has brought his campaign for the Senate to the small cities and towns of Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Rich in farmland, waterfowl and natural beauty but short on votes, the Shore, as well as Maryland's other rural areas to the west and south, have not been the highest priority in recent years for candidates in statewide campaigns. At least that is what residents of these areas believe.
But Hutchinson, 39, a self-described moderate Democrat ending his second four-year term as executive of suburban Baltimore County, believes the 1986 election will be different, in part because he will make it so.
He's operating under a theory that the other Democratic candidates -- Rep. Michael Barnes of Montgomery County, Rep. Barbara Mikulski of Baltimore City and as-yet undeclared Gov. Harry Hughes -- will divide the support of the more urbanized voters who compose about two-thirds of the state's electorate. He says he will aggressively woo the remaining third.
The rural votes, combined with votes he expects to get from his large home county, will give him an edge in next September's primary, he says. Winning the Democratic primary in Maryland, an overwhelmingly Democratic state, usually assures victory in November.
The other candidates have made the obligatory campaign stop, dinner speech and courtesy calls to local officials in the west and on the Shore. Hutchinson, however, has spent full days in Allegheny, Frederick, and Garrett counties in the west, Harford and Carroll counties in the center, and now Salisbury, which, with 16,000 residents, is the largest city on the Shore.
So far, local officials say, Hutchinson's efforts have been well received.
"I think he speaks our language," said Louis (Sonny) Davis, president of Salisbury's five-member Town Council.
"I had met him before. He was campaigning for Mondale in the last election . . . . I said to my wife, 'If Mr. Mondale had more of what he's [Hutchinson's] got, maybe he'd be better off.' "
Said state Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr., who has represented the Shore in the General Assembly for 20 years, "I think he'll help the Eastern Shore in our fight for a fair shake."
Key to Hutchinson's campaign here and in the rest of the state are his efforts to portray himself as the most conservative of the candidates. His efforts are helped by the fact that he runs a county, largely white, that is known for its conservative vote in presidential elections, going as far back as its nod for Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1968.
Hutchinson's supporters give him high marks for encouraging timely development in the county, maintaining peaceful labor relations among the county's large industries, and being the first Baltimore County executive to pursue federal urban redevelopment money.
Hutchinson also emphasizes his local education, at Frostburg State College and the University of Maryland graduate school, and his understanding and sympathy for local government.
To that he adds a promise to remain responsive to the specific complaints of the rural areas, such as Shore residents' belief that the Chesapeake Bay cleanup program pushed by Hughes two years ago unfairly restricts their development rights.
Hutchinson addressed those concerns this morning, flanked by Wicomico County Council member Bruce Ruark and Malkus, a one-time opponent of civil rights laws and one of the state's most conservative lawmakers. "I think it's important that I come from a conservative county," he told a gathering of local reporters.
The bay cleanup restrictions, he said, are being established "to the detriment of the people" on the Shore. He pledged more leadership on cleanup efforts involving Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
On the federal deficit, he said, "It's ludicrous to say you're going to address the deficit only by addressing domestic spending. We haven't looked at our overseas budget, our foreign aid budget," and the "poor management" in the defense industry.
Then, taking a swipe at his two congressional opponents, he added, "We in local government have to balance the budget every year. What happens in the federal government is they spend the money before they've got it. I think anybody in the U.S. Congress is going to have to answer to that."
Hutchinson then took his small campaign entourage on a tour through the government office building, to interviews with local media, a United Auto Workers reception, and a political science class at Salisbury State College.
He and his supporters hope his calculations are on the mark.
Said Del. Danny Long, a Democrat and likely Hutchinson supporter, "This is a region apart. I think we'd just like to have someone there who shares our philosophy."