Republican gubernatorial candidate Thomas J. Mooney, confident that when he walks people will listen, set out on foot today for Ocean City from this outpost in the far western corner of the state, a journey that he believes will eventually end at the State House.

If the first step in what has uncharitably been called the "Moon walk" seems destined to be something less than a giant leap for the hard-pressed Maryland GOP, the candidate seemed utterly convinced that he has latched onto a device to stir the passions of state voters.

"Bit by bit there will be a tremendous amount of political fallout" from the walk, Mooney said.

Mooney, 41, a two-term legislator from Prince George's County who is the only announced Republican candidate for governor, began his journey with what he promised will be a regular feature of his six-week, several hundred mile walk: a good deed.

Joined by his running mate, Baltimore businessman Melvin Bilal, Mooney spent several hours today helping the staff of a local nursing home construct tables that will be used to serve meals on to the home's residents.

Setting aside his saw and screwdriver for a moment, Mooney explained the rationale behind what for Maryland at least is a novel approach to campaigning.

"We're going into communities and instead of taking something out, we're putting something back in," said Mooney, who during eight years in Annapolis earned a reputation as a bright but unconventional lawmaker.

"What we're doing is stressing the theme of people to people without government interference. We're trying to tap the resources of good will that exist in communities," he said.

Mooney scored points today at the Cuppett and Weeks Nursing Home, where administrative assistant Diana Geare said the tables are "going to be a big help."

With little statewide name recognition and only $10,000 in contributions so far, Mooney, who switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP last year, is counting on that kind of good will and the publicity generated by his walk to translate into votes this fall. In the general election, he will face one of two formidable Democrats who are far better known and who have far greater resources: Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer or Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs.

Conceding that the battle is uphill (literally so for the first few miles east of here), Mooney said that his "campaign has to run on kinetic energy."

In state Republican circles, reaction to Mooney's candidacy, and the manner in which he has chosen to highlight it, has ranged from embarrassment to silence to a few nods of appreciation for taking on a thankless chore.

For example, Garrett County's senior elected Republican, state Sen. John Bambacus, chose to attend a picnic in Frederick for the staff of U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. rather than see Mooney off today in his own district.

But Mooney appeared undaunted and seemed to charge his batteries with every stroke of his handsaw.

"I like to help people, that's what this is all about," he said. "In November, you won't just have left hundreds of brochures on the headquarters floor, you'll have hundreds of people you've helped."

"Obviously," Mooney added, "the politicians and the pundits would think this is insignificant, but I disagree. They underestimate the strength of the people . . . . If I listened to politicians I'd still be handing out ballots on Election Day in Takoma Park."