Though the slots debates that ruled and roiled Annapolis seem a distant memory at the close of this tranquil summer, they could well come roaring back.

This week brings the first of several meetings scheduled between Magna Entertainment Corp. Vice Chairman Dennis Mills and state and horse industry officials.

Magna is the company that owns Pimlico and Laurel Park racetracks and has been aggressive in its effort to get Maryland to legalize slot machine gambling. Sources say Mills's trip to Annapolis from his corporate perch in Ontario is the start of a fresh campaign for a special October legislative session on slots.

The strategy Magna and other slots supporters plan to employ to persuade House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who has been a consistent obstacle to the slots effort, remains a well-guarded secret.

"We're in total lockdown on this one," said Paul E. Schurick, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s communications director. Ditto Joseph A. De Francis, the minority owner of the two thoroughbred tracks, who has been equally strident in his bid to legalize slots.

"I simply cannot comment," he said.

Mills did not return a message left at his office.

Inside the State House, speculation is rampant that the company will threaten to move the storied (and lucrative) Preakness Stakes to its Florida track, or even announce plans to close Pimlico altogether.

But one source familiar with the strategy said neither option is on the table. So how will Magna try to move the legislature to legalize gambling? Stay tuned.

Dirtier Than Thou

A spat over the environmental credentials of the two leading Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls escalated last week.

At issue: the so-called 4-P Bill, legislation considered by the General Assembly that would have limited power plants' emission of four pollutants.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan has tried to use the legislation to portray Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley as weak on the environment. O'Malley has not taken a position on the bill.

But last week, O'Malley's camp called into question the strength of Duncan's embrace.

The county executive clearly voiced support for the legislation before the legislature met. But in March, the county Office of Intergovernmental Relations issued a statement suggesting a study of one of the four pollutants, carbon dioxide, before the limitations were imposed. Three weeks later, Duncan sent lawmakers a letter reaffirming his support of the entire bill.

"It's hard to tell how many P's he's really for, but I guess 'principled' isn't one of them," O'Malley campaign manager Jonathan Epstein said of Duncan, before ticking off parts of the mayor's environmental resume. "If you're going to run a negative campaign, you should at least know what your own position is."

Duncan aides said that his support for the bill has been unwavering and that the intergovernmental office's position reflected that of the entire county, including the County Council. "Doug Duncan has been, is today and will always be rock solid in support of the 4-P Bill," said campaign spokeswoman Jody Couser. "In contrast, Mayor O'Malley has been a rock-solid apologist for the polluters."

Mixing With the Bigwigs

A pair of potential 2008 Democratic presidential contenders are scheduled to mingle with Marylanders at fundraisers this month.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) has a fundraiser to benefit her 2006 reelection campaign at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills on Sept. 26. Former Maryland Democratic Party chairman Wayne Rogers is among the hosts.

And John Edwards (N.C.), the 2004 vice presidential nominee, is appearing at an event in Washington on Sept. 29 to benefit Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert). The event, one of Miller's biggest fundraisers of the year, is being hosted by James D'Orta, a major Democratic donor.

The Face Is Familiar

Some have speculated that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley harbors presidential ambitions. But it is hard to imagine that a President O'Malley would resemble the Republican incumbent.

The mayor reinforced that notion during a case of mistaken identity last week, in a computer room at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore.

"Aren't you George Bush?" a student asked.

"I'm nothing like George Bush," O'Malley said.