For the past several weeks, Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, whose congressional district was chopped up by redistricting, has tried to pick up "some feeling from voters" about where he should run.
At least four Democrats, including two state lawmakers, have made their feelings known: They want to replace him.
The four have filed to run in the newly drawn 1st District, which pits Mr. McMillen against Republican Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore.
Delegate John C. Astle of Annapolis, Delegate Samuel Q. Johnson III of Salisbury, Annapolis Alderwoman Ellen Moyer and James Brown, a Caroline County drug treatment worker, all hope to win the Democratic nomination.
"[Mr. McMillen's] waited so long it's activated some people in the party to take him on," Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden said. "No matter what [Mr. McMillen] does, he's got a hard uphill battle."
Meanwhile, the three-term Crofton congressman, according to his top aide, has narrowed his choices between the 1st District and the majority-black 4th District, which straddles Prince George's and Montgomery counties and already has more than a half-dozen Democratic candidates. The aide, Jerry Grant, said another possibility is to bypass a 1992 race.
The congressman, who declined to discuss his plans, is expected to reach his decision by mid-December, Mr. Grant said.
Congressmen are not required to live in the district they represent. The deadline for candidates to file is Dec. 23.
Some political observers and McMillen supporters, including state Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Anne Arundel, said the congressman is leaning toward the 1st District race. But Mr. Wagner said he's concerned by the entry of an Eastern Shore lawmaker -- Mr. Johnson of Salisbury, the top delegate vote-getter in the most populated region of the Shore.
The majority of the new 1st District is located on the Shore. Of the Democratic voters in the district, there are 89,149 on the Shore, 58,077 in Anne Arundel and 3,493 in Baltimore City. There are another 18,325 independent voters in the entire district.
"Guys from the Eastern Shore usually support guys from the Eastern Shore," lamented Mr. Wagner. "So much for all these guys helping McMillen."
Mr. Johnson, who expects the endorsement of the Shore's political leadership and voters, brushed aside Mr. McMillen's name recognition and bulging campaign war chest. "I'm not scared of somebody with a half-million dollars," he said.
Mr. Brown, the other Eastern Shore Democrat to have announced for the race, said Mr. McMillen cannot attract enough voters on the peninsula. "They want one of their own. It will take a Shore person to run against Gilchrest," said Mr. Brown, a clinical supervisor with a drug counseling center in Caroline County.
Mrs. Moyer has said she would bow out if Mr. McMillen entered the race.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Anne Arundel, also is considering the race, he said last night.
The entry of an Eastern Shore lawmaker into the race "makes it kind of a difficult thing for Tom," Mr. Astle said, and could drive the congressman to run in the 4th District.
Mr. Wagner said the increasingly crowded 1st District race may "alter" the congressman's plans.
The new majority-black 4th District contains a portion of Mr. McMillen's current Prince George's County turf. The district was created to satisfy the federal Voting Rights Act, which is designed to increase minority representation.
"[The congressman's] real strength comes from P.G.," Mr. Astle said.
But the entry of a white candidate like Mr. McMillen into a congressional race that has already attracted a number of the county's black lawmakers would create "a lot of resentment," said Mr. Snowden, who is black.
Should he decide to run on the Shore, Mr. McMillen would pick up strong support from voters and officials alike, Mr. Grant said, pointing to recent successful tours of the area. "If Tom runs, I think a majority of the Eastern Shore leadership will support him," he said.
That remains to be seen. State Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, said he and other Shore lawmakers hope to meet in the near future about endorsing a candidate in the congressional race. "That's the way to win battles," he said.
Mr. Grant said the congressman could spend January and February campaigning throughout the district -- while Delegates Astle and Johnson are slated to be in session at the statehouse.
Mr. Wagner and another McMillen ally, Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel, expect that Mr. McMillen would prevail against other Democrats should he run in the 1st. "All in all, I think Tom will survive the primary if he chooses to run," Mr. Jimeno said.