Backers of Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley say they have signed up 1,700 volunteers across the state, nearly half of them in the critical suburban counties of Montgomery and Prince George's.

Roger Berliner, an administrative lawyer and former congressional aide who is leading the statewide effort, said more than 600 volunteers have come from Montgomery alone, most of them signed up through the candidate's Internet site.

In addition, fund-raisers sponsored by former state senator Stewart Bainum Jr., Wizards owner Abe Pollin and Charles Baum, a Princeton classmate of Bradley's who lives in Severna Park, have raised nearly $500,000, Berliner said.

Bradley's effort comes as his chief rival, Vice President Gore, has lined up support from many of the state's top political leaders. Gore's fund-raising efforts have included a Georgetown event last month with co-hosts Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) and racetrack owner Joseph A. De Francis, which raised $200,000, and another in Baltimore in July, which attracted the state's Democratic political establishment and raised $350,000 to $400,000.

Glendening has called a meeting for Dec. 2 in Annapolis of the state's congressional delegation and county executives to organize for Gore. "The Gore organization in Maryland is just starting," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), a strong supporter of the vice president.

Meanwhile, the Bradley grass-roots campaign is forging ahead toward the March 7 Maryland presidential primary.

In Montgomery, under the Bradley banner of "community service," supporters had a pumpkin party for low-income residents of Silver Spring and held a public campaign kickoff Nov. 13. Anne Arundel supporters cleaned up a veterans memorial site.

In Prince George's, Bradley supporters have held two meetings at Prince George's Community College, and local leaders have lunched at BET SoundStage, in Largo, with Ed Turlington, deputy national campaign manager.

As many as 200 have signed onto the Bradley campaign in Prince George's, according to Justin Ross, a commercial real estate agent and county field coordinator. "We're looking to have 500 come out by January," Ross said. Campus groups are "up and running" at the University of Maryland and at the community college, he said.

Many Gore supporters say they like Bradley as well. Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan backs Gore, for now. "I think he's above all a very decent, caring person, the kind of person I think would be a very good president." On the other hand, he said: "I like Bradley. I think we have two very good Democratic candidates."

Duncan was instrumental in convening county officials and state legislators who met last spring with then-Gore campaign director Craig Smith at a home in Bethesda. But there has been no follow-up in the months since.

"I haven't heard about any Gore organization in the state," said Jerry Pasternak, special assistant to Duncan. "When we met with them last spring, we said we'd be glad to do that here. They said that would be great, but we haven't heard from them. I would hope they wouldn't take anything for granted, because they're in for a fight."

Schaefer for Bradley

Comptroller William Donald Schaefer has endorsed Bill Bradley for president, calling him "America's best hope to bring about the bold changes our country needs."

"I have been involved in public service for four decades, and rarely have I met someone with the integrity, honesty and character of Bill Bradley," Schaefer said in a statement released last week from Bradley's West Orange, N.J., headquarters.

Bradley said he is pleased to have the endorsement: "For 40 years, he has served the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in public office, and his experience, wisdom and intelligence will be a tremendous asset to my campaign in the state."

Schaefer is the most senior Maryland Democrat to endorse Bradley's campaign yet. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend are supporting Gore.

In 1992, Schaefer made national headlines when as governor he endorsed Republican President George Bush's reelection campaign. As one senior Democrat supporting Gore noted about Schaefer's endorsement of Bradley: "At least this time, it's a Democrat."

Townsend Raises $500,000

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) last week held her biggest fund-raiser yet in her still-to-be announced campaign for governor. More than 600 people nibbled salmon and shrimp at Port Discovery children's museum, and aides said the take from the evening was about $500,000.

That's a big sum of money from one event in a gubernatorial bid, especially with the election three years away. "In politics now, it's important to build support all the time. You never can rest easy," Townsend said.

Most analysts consider Townsend the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But she could face stiff opposition from Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan or Baltimore County Executive C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, who are both contemplating bids.

Townsend has been hard at work to line up financial supporters early. Those attending last week's event paid either $500 to get in or $1,000 for a VIP reception. Guests included high-profile lobbyists such as Alan Rifkin and Gary Alexander, top legislators such as Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) as well as prominent Democratic givers including Pimlico owner Joseph A. De Francis, who is again ingratiating himself with the Democrats after supporting GOP gubernatorial challenger Ellen R. Sauerbrey in last year's election.

Estepp Explores

Prince George's County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) hasn't officially announced for county executive in 2002, but he has formed an exploratory committee and has held his first unofficial campaign fund-raiser.

More than 500 people--including Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the county executives of Baltimore and Harford counties and labor leaders--turned out for Estepp's barbecue at the Florian Hall, in Bowie, on Oct. 28. He raised a tidy $20,000, according to Estepp.

The south county politician and former Prince George's fire chief has been holding an annual barbecue since 1994, but this was the largest crowd and the largest take, according to his wife, Nancy.

Estepp said he was pleased with the cross-section--racially, geographically, vocationally--that attended. The co-chairmen of Estepp's exploratory committee are African Americans. Estepp, who is white, discounted race as a factor in 2002.

"I certainly feel I have the experience, background and vision to do the job," he said. "I really think we are past looking at people on the basis of color."