The field in Maryland's 2006 U.S. Senate race may soon grow wider, more curious and less predictable.

On the Democratic side, the number of candidates could easily double to six by next month. Three Montgomery County residents -- a historian, a psychiatrist and a wealthy businessman -- all say they are on the verge of making decisions about whether to join the fray.

The latest possible entrant is Allan J. Lichtman, an American University historian. Lichtman, who has made a career of commenting upon candidates, last week said he is thinking of becoming one.

"I see an opening here," said Lichtman, whose side gigs include political commentary for CNN and a weekly column for the Gazette newspapers.

Lichtman, who lives in Bethesda, would join a Democratic field that includes former congressman Kweisi Mfume (whose candidacy Lichtman argues has been wounded by allegations of favoritism while leading the NAACP) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (whom Lichtman argues the Democratic establishment has been too quick to rally around). "I don't believe in inevitability candidates," Lichtman said. "I think that's a bad thing for the country."

Cardin and Mfume both hail from Baltimore, as does A. Robert Kaufman, a self-described socialist and community activist also in the race.

Potomac businessman Joshua Rales, meanwhile, has hired Robin Rorapaugh, a veteran of Florida and Texas politics, as his campaign manager and said he will decide next month whether to proceed with a bid. "Everything is moving forward in a positive direction," Rales wrote in an e-mail last week.

Lise Van Susteren of Bethesda could kick off a campaign about the same time, friends said.

Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist and mother of three, has been talking to Tad Devine, a Washington operative whose clients have included John F. Kerry, about getting into the race.

Devine said Van Susteren would enter the race as a "fresh voice" and alternative to candidates who have spent much of their lives in politics.

"She's smart, very well-informed and has had a career outside politics," Devine said. She also has a celebrity sister: Fox News's Greta Van Susteren.

One serious would-be contender for the Senate, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D), now seems to be focusing her sights on the 3rd District congressional race.

Term limits prevent Owens from continuing in her current job, but she is widely known in a county that covers about 40 percent of the congressional district.

She has told potential supporters that, in a field packed with candidates from Baltimore, she could pose a serious threat. The only other well-established Anne Arundel politician in the race at the moment is Bill D. Burlison, a two-term councilman from Odenton.

On the Republican side, all signs still point to a bid by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who is in the midst of an exploratory effort.

Steele, however, will not have the GOP field to himself. Two long-shot candidates have quietly filed for the race in recent weeks: Daniel Muffoletto of Howard County and Corrogan R. Vaughn of Baltimore County. Vaughn finished far back in a crowded pack that sought the 2002 GOP Senate nomination won by state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's).

The major-party candidates who emerge may also face Kevin Zeese in the November general election. Zeese, who was Ralph Nader's press secretary in 2004, is exploring the possibility of corralling the backing of the Green, Populist and Libertarian parties.

Ehrlich's Call on Medicare

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) last week placed a ceremonial first call to Dorothy Eaton of Queenstown as part of a pilot program that provides nursing services to Medicare beneficiaries over the phone.

Things went so swimmingly that the governor might soon make a house call. During a call witnessed by more than 100 onlookers, Ehrlich informed Eaton that one of the favorite golf courses of first lady Kendel Ehrlich is nearby.

"Maybe we'll stop by for lunch the next time we're down there," Ehrlich said.