There are huge hurdles facing Montgomery County Council member Neal Potter in his last-minute bid to unseat County Executive Sidney Kramer. He has no money, no organization and very little time.
But if anyone can make life uncomfortable for Kramer between now and the Sept. 11 primary, it is the former economist who has served on the County Council for 20 years.
That is the opinion of Montgomery Democratic activists and officials as they tried yesterday to assess the changes brought about by Potter's unexpected entry into the race.
The contest promises to be a classic struggle over growth and development -- and who should pay for them -- and threatens to disrupt the Democratic Party as two of its best known officeholders tug at divided loyalities.
"Neal has very deep roots in the party and community. He's been around a long time and his name is well known. He is almost the definition of integrity . . . so who knows?" said former council member Scott Fosler. "I think it will be a contest."
"He is a credible candidate," conceded Lanny Davis, a Democratic activist who is helping to manage Kramer's bid for a second term.
It had looked as though Kramer would be able to breeze through the primary, spending much of his time and money helping elect allies on the council and in the legislature.
Officeholders such as Montgomery County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner backed off from the race, spooked by the strength of Kramer's political organization and its ability to raise money. Former council aide Henry Bain entered the Democratic primary, but his candidacy has not been taken seriously by Kramer's inner circle of advisers, the party's rank and file and even, in the end, by people such as Potter, who had welcomed Bain's entry into the race.
The propsect of an easy primary changed when the 75-year-old Potter strode into the county Board of Elections Office just two hours before the filing deadline.
"It sure will make for a more interesting summer than I had predicted," said council member Bruce Adams.
Adams and council member Isiah Leggett are Potter's closest allies on the council and Potter said he is trying to persuade them to abandon a pledge to campaign with Kramer on an incumbent's ticket, and run with him.
Adams called Potter the person he respects most in public life and he said he was in a "slow burn" over Kramer's recent criticism of a tax referendum compromise. But Adams said he wouldn't break his commitment to run with Kramer and he didn't see how Potter could win.
"It is so late . . . it's an overwhelming task," Adams said.
County Democratic Party Chairman Thomas Bratten said Potter's chances are "nil to none . . . but it's not that he is not qualified. He just got into the race just a little late."
Kramer's campaign aides already are researching Potter's record on the council for evidence to back up their contention that he is a legislator operating on the fringe of political life, not the mainstream.
Potter also will have to explain his recent political decisions: first, that he was running for reelection on Kramer's ticket, then that he was retiring, then that he encouraged Bain and now that he is running himself.
Potter and those who support him say he is banking on a perceived dissatisfication with the policies and practices of the Kramer administration. "Sid Kramer's support is very thin and there is a lot of turbulence, unhappiness," Fosler said.