Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley watched from a skybox, schmoozing with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, as former president Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention this week.

On the convention floor below, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan sat with the Maryland delegation.

Wednesday night, O'Malley will be at the podium, delivering a seven-minute speech on homeland security. Duncan will, once again, be sitting with the Maryland delegation.

For the two men most likely to compete for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 2006 governor's race, this week's experience in Boston could not be more different. O'Malley is being whisked by a security detail and a half-dozen aides from event to event as he burnishes his credentials as a national Democratic star. Duncan moves through the crowd with a couple of aides as he homes in on the local political leaders who could help him secure the nomination.

"He is running a different campaign," Duncan said of his potential rival. "I'll let him do that. . . . I spend my time with the Maryland delegation. I've always believed in grass roots."

Duncan knows what it's like to be upstaged: At the convention four years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was the media darling and ultimately the 2002 Democratic candidate for governor. Duncan, now in his third term as county executive, also knows that the national attention she received did not translate into a victory in Maryland.

Face-to-face time with delegates, Duncan and other party leaders say, is far more important at this early stage of a campaign.

"Doug is very good at building relationships," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (Md.), a Duncan supporter. "At this stage, the important thing should be building those relationships."

Delegates say his efforts are paying off.

"Duncan has always been grass roots," said Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (Prince George's). "I'm not saying that it's hurting O'Malley, but what I will say, it's not hurting Duncan."

But O'Malley is reaching out to the Maryland delegation as well. The one-term mayor has a well-organized outreach effort to keep his name -- and his message -- in front of Maryland Democrats in Boston.

Each morning, the delegates receive a four-page, green and white "O'Malley Convention News" letter that features a personal message from the mayor, the weather forecast for the day and the convention theme.

"You already feel a little of that tension in the room when people are handing out the literature," said Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler.

On Tuesday, O'Malley distributed a gift bag to all Maryland delegates and their guests. The bag contained a DVD that features a biography of the mayor and his past campaign commercials.

And as an Irishman who plays in a rock band, O'Malley's March, the mayor has also been taking his charismatic personality to the streets of Boston, a city rich in Irish heritage. On Monday night, some Democrats said O'Malley stole the show when he sang and played guitar at a fundraiser for Thomas P. O'Neill III, the son of the late House speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr.

"If he was not running for governor of Maryland, he could be mayor of Boston" quipped Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), who attended the fundraiser.

"It's a target-rich environment for mediocre Irish folk singers," said O'Malley, who is refusing to discuss a possible gubernatorial bid until after he completes his campaign to be reelected mayor in November.

To add to his accolades, the mayor will receive an award Wednesday from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for his signature program: CitiStat, a computerized effort to monitor the performance of Baltimore's agencies. Democratic leaders say he landed a prime-time slot for his speech in part because of his ties to former Colorado senator Gary Hart. Throughout the week, O'Malley has been sitting for interviews, many of them set up by the national party.

For aspiring politicians, there are few better venues to explore a potential run for office than a national party nominating convention, with most of the state Democratic leaders and party activists gathered in one location.

The convention also gives O'Malley and Duncan easy access to a network of wealthy Democratic donors, whom political analysts say they will have to tap if they are to match Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s expected fundraising efforts.

O'Malley has brought his chief fundraiser, Colleen Martin Lauer, to the convention, and he plans a reception after his speech for his supporters and potential donors. Duncan held a similar reception Tuesday, with O'Malley and his wife in attendance.

Thomas F. Schaller, an associate professor of government at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, said O'Malley's prominence at the convention might give him the upper hand when it comes to raising out-of-state money.

"He is recognized as a Democratic Party rising star, and people will get a whiff of that," Schaller said, adding that there could be a backlash among Maryland Democrats if O'Malley appears to be too focused on the national party.

So far, many Maryland delegates say it is too early to tell whether Duncan or O'Malley will receive the biggest boost from their efforts in Boston this week. "We like Doug Duncan in Montgomery County, but we recognize Martin O'Malley is like a movie star," said Louise Gallun, vice chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, left, talks with David Cohen of Comcast and state Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore) during the Maryland Democratic Party luncheon in Boston.Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is greeted by Bel Leong-Hong of Gaithersburg during the luncheon, held at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.