Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan acknowledges that he's the underdog in the Democratic primary for governor and says he's going to go to great lengths to win over voters, but it's hard to imagine that would ever include saving lives.

Yet that's exactly what Queen Anne's County Commissioner Gene M. Ransom III says happened yesterday during a campaign stop in Stevensville.

Ransom, a Democrat and Duncan supporter, was seated next to the candidate at a luncheon when a piece of chicken went down the wrong pipe and lodged in his throat.

"At first I waited, thinking it would work itself out," Ransom said by telephone. "When I realized I was really in trouble, I stood up and put my hands on my throat."

There were about 30 diners in the Love Point Cafe, including several firefighters. But it was the 6-foot-4 Duncan who was closest to Ransom and who quickly scooped him up to start the Heimlich maneuver.

"It took him three thrusts, and then, 'Pop!' Out it came," Ransom said. "I'll be honest with you. It was terrifying."

Duncan, who announced his bid for governor Thursday and is in the midst of a 1,350-mile tour of the state, decided to leave it to Ransom to provide the details. To some, the whole story might be a little bit hard to swallow, though it was confirmed by the restaurant's owner, Tom Peterson.

"It's one of those bizarre things that, if they wrote it in a script, they'd reject it," Ransom said. Then, as if providing the final line to the script, Ransom added, "I guess now I have another reason to vote for him."

Senate Contest Heats Up

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) continued to trek around Maryland last week on his tour of the state's 157 cities and towns -- which just happens to come in advance of a "major announcement" Tuesday that, in all likelihood, will mark the launch of his 2006 U. S. Senate bid.

Steele's tours of cities large, such as Rockville, and small, such as the hamlet of Laytonville (pop. 250), have come fast and furious since Steele announced an exploratory bid for Senate this summer. But he has stressed that this is merely a part of his official lieutenant governorship duties.

On Friday, Steele addressed the fall conference of the Maryland Municipal League in Ocean City, where he saw many familiar faces. Besides whatever benefit Steele's tours may have to the taxpayers who fund them, they also appear to have helped his chances for higher office, at least according to some of the local officials at the conference.

Don William Bradley, a lifelong Democrat and mayor of Hurlock on the Eastern Shore, said Steele seems very popular.

"More popular on his own than with the governor," Bradley said.

Steele's leading Democratic rivals, meanwhile, were squabbling last week over a poll commissioned by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin's campaign.

A letter sent to Cardin supporters last week said the poll showed the Baltimore area congressman enjoying a significant lead in the Democratic primary over his closest rival, former congressman and NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume. No other Democrat in the race attracted much attention from voters, according to the letter.

The letter did not provide the actual poll results, and Cardin's campaign would not fully reveal them. The letter did, however, identify Cardin's pollster as Harrison Hickman, a widely respected Democratic veteran whose recent clients included Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Still, the results -- Cardin has a 20-point lead over Mfume -- were discounted by Joe Trippi, a senior Mfume adviser and manager of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid.

"I think if anyone believes those numbers," Trippi said, "I have an island to sell them."