More than 400 party activists were gathered in one place, and the Democrats running for Montgomery County local and state offices made the most of it. They shouted out greetings, shook hands, slapped backs, hugged and whispered confidences and compliments.

But not Henry Bain. Bain leaned against a wall, avoiding the crush of politicking, avoiding even eye contact. He's set out to topple County Executive Sidney Kramer, and he's attempting to do it without money, without an organization and without -- by his own admission -- charisma.

But Bain believes he is armed with citizen discontent with Kramer and the county's booming growth, and Bain's own complex and carefully calculated ideas that he plans to systematically lay out during the campaign.

Is that enough? The reed-thin, former legislative analyst for the Montgomery County Council defers. "If is this a horse race, I'm a horse and not accustomed to offering comments to people in the stands about what kind of race I'm running," Bain said. "I'm just out there running."

"I must say I am very startled he is running for executive," said Norman Christeller, the former Planning Board chairman who frequently disagreed with analyst Bain's suggestions. "He was always a thinker and a critic and an idea man, but for some reason -- partly because he is so quiet -- I just never thought of him becoming a candidate."

"His policies and analytical ability are first-rate. But he is not, shall I say, the exciting figure that . . . Sid Kramer is," said County Council member Neal Potter, who said he may endorse Bain but is waiting to see "how well he will take off."

"Do I think he has a chance?" said state Sen. Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery). "In a word -- no."

Kramer and his campaign advisers have advanced the theory that Bain was recruited to run in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary by the county executive's political enemies.

Bain denies it: "Nobody asked me to run. Nobody suggested it. Indeed, nobody even hinted at it."

As a citizen, Bain explained, he waited for an opponent to Kramer to appear -- someone who would call attention to the problems of overdevelopment, traffic congestion and sky-high taxes.

"When I saw no one step forward, I said this is more important to me -- to get out in the public and start speaking out in the strongest language I can use to the voters of Montgomery County, telling them there is something going wrong here in county government," Bain said.

Bain, 64, spent three decades studying the problems of America's suburbs, and his conclusions for Montgomery are both provocative and, his critics say, unrealistic. He believes growth doesn't pay for itself, and he would tax developers.

He would make developers put their buildings where there is public transportation, and he says he would not bend the rules for anyone.

He said real estate interests have an unhealthy influence on county government and politics, and he said he would recapture the Democratic Party "for the people."

Bain felt strongly enough about his ideas that he quit his $58,000-a-year council post to run for executive. "It is scary," he said, noting that his son is set to start college and that his mother, 94, lives with him in his Rockville home. "I am not wealthy," said Bain, who is divorced. While he will receive a pension from the county, the amount is small.

Kramer, on the other hand, is a millionaire, who has raised close to $150,000.

Since announcing May 29, Bain has tapped his own savings. He has sent a mailing to 3,000 Democrats and placed ads in The Washington Post and Montgomery's local newspapers. And, on Saturday, amid balloons and a handful of supporters, Bain launched his campaign.

He traveled to five schoolyards across the county, setting up a folding table of campaign literature.

The campaign has a home-grown flavor. Fliers are hand-lettered. The mailings were delivered in an envelope that bore a postage stamp of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, from the "Wizard of Oz." The newspaper advertisements looked more like a legal notice than a political ad.

The slogans are simple -- "A Change for the Better" and "Vote for Me!"

A candidate's biography de scribes him as an "enthusiastic hiker and birdwatcher" who enjoys opera, Broadway musicals, books on history and public affairs and who "claims that he enjoys mowing his lawn." Bain's first political speech -- to the 400 party regulars who gathered last week for an endorsement convention at Rockville High School -- was, he admitted, "just about as bad as one's first speech might be expected to be."

"I am for Kramer, I should have been exulting, {but} I was cringing," said Edmond Rovner, a county executive aide who remembers working alongside Bain in the 1950s and 1960s in the much celebrated reform of Montgomery Democratic politics.

Bain came in last in the convention polling -- receiving 51 votes to 256 for Kramer and 72 for Friendship Heights Village Council Chairman Alfred Muller, who is undecided about whether to enter the primary.

Bain explained that for five years as a council analyst he had to be understated and anonymous. He said he is "now trying to break free and recapture my old abilities to explain things to people in an interesting way, with humor and passion.

"I'm running as hard as I can from now until Sept. 11," Bain said, " . . . and I am working as hard as I can on the issues." In 1976, Bain -- drawing on his work in San Franciso where he helped plan the area's rapid transit system -- wrote a report on the Washington Metro subway system that posed some radical rethinking of the system. Like maybe the segments to the outlying suburbs shouldn't be built. Like perhaps high-quality express bus service should be considered.

Recently, as the County Council wrestled with how to balance its budget, Bain suggested the virtual elimination of the county's office of economic development, arguing that fast-growing Montgomery doesn't need to spend tax money to foster development. When money was tight, he suggested that the county put off spending money to equip buses with lifts for the handicapped.

"If you were a politician and picking a staff to make you look good, you wouldn't pick Henry because he is the kind of person who raises the difficult questions," said council member Bruce Adams, who with Potter most relied on Bain, but who nonetheless is running with and supporting Kramer.

Planning Board Chairman Gus Bauman called Bain's ideas "not very practical." Some of them, Adams said, were "mindboggling." Most were rejected by the council but often Bain's analysis -- questioning the costs and ridership of the Bethesda-Silver Spring trolley or the number of new jobs being added to downtown Silver Spring -- influenced the final decision.

The word that is most used by those describing Bain is "iconoclast." And he doesn't quarrel with the description. "My favorite inconoclast is the boy who said, 'But the emperor doesn't have any clothes,' " said Bain, arguing that in Montgomery County the emperor's clothes are the plans, programs and processes set up to control growth but are not working.