Jay Hall yesterday sat perched on a seven-foot ladder, wearing a top hat and holding an open black umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. From his vantage point, Hall, a chimney sweep, dressed for his profession if not for the occasion, surveyed a sea of bobbing heads at the Main Street Festival in Laurel.

"There's about a million balloons, and an equal number of little kids on the other end of them," he said, squinting into the distance.

The multicolored balloons also could be seen snagged on utility wires, trees and occasionally floating off into the distant blue when a child lost his grip.

The lighter-than-air globes added a summer feeling yesterday to two outdoor festivals, in Laurel and Upper Marlboro, where tens of thousands of area residents took their cue from the 70-degree weather to take to the streets.

Just as countless children and their parents were drawn to parades and carnival booths, so were the state's politicians, who worked feverishly at both events in an attempt to leave no hand unshaken and no lapel unbuttoned.

Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer, who will formally enter the governor's race tomorrow, sat in a Mercedes-Benz convertible for the short ride through the streets of the county seat at the 10th annual Marlborough Day festivities.

The ladies auxiliary of the Brandywine Volunteer Fire Department sold strawberry desserts, and people took paddle boats out on placid Schoolhouse Pond as the parade wound around the county administration building.

"The parade's always bigger in an election year," said Antoinette Jarboe, the event's organizer, who is a candidate for circuit court clerk.

Hours before, workers had completed Upper Marlboro's new landscaped pedestrian mall. "This mall is a miracle of logistics," said County Executive Parris Glendening. "Three weeks ago, most of you realize that this was a large mud puddle out here."

Schaefer joined Glendening in dedicating the new mall while, as if in counterpoint, children drifted by clutching balloons that read "Steve Sachs for Governor" in support of the state attorney general, who is challenging Schaefer for the Democratic nomination.

In Laurel, Sachs wolfed down a sausage and peppers sandwich and shook hands.

"You go where the people are," he said between handshakes.

Sachs worked the Laurel crowd from a stationary post at one end of Main Street. From the other end, Schaefer walked through the crowd with several aides. Schaefer even shook hands with someone dressed as a giant Twinkie.

When the two candidates met -- a rare occurrence so far in this campaign -- Sachs hailed Schaefer. Schaefer turned and hailed Sachs. They shook hands briefly but returned quickly to the crowd. "Hi, I'm the other one," Schaefer said to a woman wearing a pink sweater and a Sachs for governor sticker.

Both candidates say they are doing well in Prince George's, where elected officials have lined up in each camp. "It's started to shape up as a race," said Glendening, a Schaefer supporter. "Prior to this, most Prince Georgians were somewhat removed from it because we did not have a local candidate."

Glendening, who plans to announce his intention to run for a second term as county executive on Wednesday, was also doing some campaigning for himself. No one has yet announced a challenge to his seat.

"You know, I like the way he runs," Schaefer said of Glendening. "He runs unopposed."