At the Great Frederick County Fair, Republican gubernatoria candidate William S. Shepard strolled the midway in his brown suede sport jacket, spent $3 for three errant shots with a basketball and enjoyed a cone of black raspberry ice cream.
The 55-year-old retired foreign service officer -- desperate for name recognition -- wore no tag carrying his name and the office he seeks. Except for a few brief conversations and a radio interview, this campaign day had an air of detachment from the presumed business at hand.
Mr. Shepard said later he wore no tag in deference to his jacket. He had lost his pin-on tag at a diplomatic function in Washington the evening before. And he eschewed the stick-on variety.
"The glue screws up suede," he explained.
In the business of running for office, a typically manic candidate might seriously consider walking down the middle of a picnic table to shake hands with the picnickers. Mr. Shepard has been energetic and steadfast as a campaigner, but on occasion he has seemed bemused by the task he set for himself 10 months ago: to defeat an incumbent Democratic governor with immense financial and political resources.
With little help from his party in Maryland -- and with occasional obstructions -- the GOP contender has put together a sometimes sharply critical and scholarly challenge to the record and personal style of Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Mr. Shepard identified areas in Mr. Schaefer's record that were vulnerable to attack, and he prepared a series of position papers mapping his own ideas, particularly in the area of budgets and taxation.
The campaign's political high point -- and perhaps the low point as well -- came in June when Mr. Shepard announced he would name his wife, Lois, as his running mate for lieutenant governor. A former Reagan administration bureaucrat and political operative, Mrs. Shepard stepped into the race after several other leading Republicans declined to spend their summer running uphill.
Mr. Shepard defended his unorthodox selection by saying his wife was eminently qualified -- and a better choice than many contenders he had interviewed.
Politically, the decision was costly. It earned him a primary opponent, Dr. Ross Z. Pierpont, who jumped into the race to protest what he called the "one household" ticket. Time that might have been spent attacking Mr. Schaefer was diverted by the necessity of defeating Mr. Pierpont -- a chore only narrowly accomplished.
Mr. Shepard said last week he had hoped his campaign would move through three phases:
Marylanders upset with Mr. Schaefer would be saying at first, "I'm staying home" on Election Day.
Later as his effort took hold, these angry voters would start to say, "I'm voting for that guy who's running against Schaefer."
Finally, the Shepard name would be a household word, and people would say, "I'm voting for Bill Shepard."
He concedes he hasn't made it.
Last week, Mr. Shepard did his best to overcome his status as man without a profile. On Wednesday, he started the day shaking hands at Dresser Industries in Salisbury, taped a television show called "2 The Point" on WMAR-TV, testified on mass transit issues in Hunt Valley, went to a dinner in Hagerstown, and finished the day in Darnestown with a political forum.
His strategy, he said, has been to pull together small constituencies of disaffected Marylanders and hope that the alleged widespread unhappiness with incumbents -- and with taxes -- will give him the needed momentum. He insists victory is still possible, although Mr. Schaefer led him by 69 percent to 18 percent in a recent poll done for The Sun.
So far, he counts several not necessarily harmonious elements in his mix: the Eastern Shore, parts of Western Maryland, state employee union members, gun control opponents, gay rights activists and Maryland Right To Life.
Though some political wisdom suggests that siding with anti-abortion forces may not be the winning move this year, Mr. Shepard says he is doing so because he believes it is the right position -- and because he needs support wherever he can find it.
"You have to stand up for what you think is proper and right," he said at a news conference where he got the endorsement of MarylandRight To Life. Mr. Schaefer, he said, has "changed his mind on abortion, then changed it, then changed it again. People began to wonder, can we trust this guy? He's shown no leadership."
"What you shouldn't have to do is lick your finger and hold it up to the wind to see how it's blowing," he said. "A leader is someone who faces issues whether it's popular or not."
He said he was aware that he needed more than a few isolate groups.
"We have to get beyond these groups to the mainstream," he said. "That's why this taxpayer movement is so important."
Last Friday, as he tried to tap into this unhappiness, Mr. Shepard joined former ambassador Alan L. Keyes at a taxpayers' protest rally on the State House steps in Annapolis.