With a solid New Hampshire primary victory in hand and a new symbol for his surging campaign, Paul E. Tsongas wasted no time yesterday staking a claim to the loyalty of Maryland voters who will decide March 3 if his candidacy can flourish outside New England.
Veteran political organizers in Maryland say any of the four top Democratic candidates could do well here, but the stakes may be highest for Mr. Tsongas.
"If he doesn't do well in Maryland, it will be a major stumbling block," said Baltimore City Councilman Perry Sfikas, D-1st, a Tsongas coordinator.
With its tradition of support for liberal Democrats, a substantial ethnic community and fears about the economy enlivening the electorate, Maryland will be hospitable to Mr. Tsongas' blueprint for economic recovery, Mr. Sfikas said.
But the second- and fourth-place finishers in New Hampshire won't be far behind Mr. Tsongas in campaigning here. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton is expected in Maryland on Saturday, and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin is due Tuesday.
"It's wide open for the Democrats, very fluid," said John T. Willis, former vice chairman of the state Democratic Party and author of book on presidential elections in Maryland. "The No. 1 ingredient is who pays attention, who makes us a focus state," he said.
Mr. Tsongas, former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, made his focus clear yesterday. He made Maryland his first stop after a solid win Tuesday in New Hampshire. He is due back next Tuesday as well as March 1-2. "Maryland is crucial," Mr. Tsongas said yesterday during a noontime rally at Hopkins Plaza.
He even adopted a new symbol when a supporter handed him an oar with a green-and-white TSONGAS bumper sticker on the paddle.
What his campaign stands for, Mr. Tsongas said, is "pulling for a common goal."
Gov. William Donald Schaefer came to the rally and praised Mr. Tsongas -- but stopped short of an endorsement. "I don't want to do anything that would cause him any problems," said Mr. Schaefer, whose own political popularity is at an all-time low.
Other top Maryland Democrats, including Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, have allied themselves with Mr. Clinton. The state's two U.S. senators, Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, have said they'll stay neutral in a race that includes two of their colleagues, Mr. Harkin and Nebraska's Bob Kerrey.
In the Republican primary, President Bush appeared to be the prohibitive favorite until Tuesday, when challenger Patrick J. Buchanan claimed 37 percent of the New Hampshire vote.
Mr. Bush has not scheduled official campaign stops here, although he has been in Catonsville and Aberdeen recently to make political announcements.
Vice President Dan Quayle is expected to campaign here on Tuesday.
Mr. Buchanan made a brief visit earlier this month to Bethesda for a fund-raiser and is scheduled to return briefly for a similar event in Carroll County next week.
The most competitive of the primaries, then, would appear to be Democratic.
At yesterday's rally in Hopkins Plaza, Mr. Tsongas, 50, made a rousing bid for the support of Democrats in Maryland and beyond.
"Think of the people who built this," he said, raising an arm toward the skyscrapers picketing the plaza and intending his gesture to embrace the nation as a whole. "We are part of a continuum."
Men and women died building the nation, he said, and their work should be honored -- not "squandered," as he said Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bush have done.
"I want to be for this generation," the former Peace Corps volunteer said, "what President Kennedy was for me in the 1960s."
Whether he can reach that goal will depend to a large extent on money, organization and turnout in Maryland.
"We have to raise a lot of money to broaden the campaign," Councilman Sfikas said. The robust network of Greek-American contributors will almost certainly begin to come through for Mr. Tsongas, he said.
General fund-raising, he said, has begun to go extremely well.
Paid and free media will be as important as they usually are -- and more so in a campaign that will last only 13 more days.
"You want anyone you can get from the national campaign, preferably the candidate, of course," said Maggie McIntosh, who ran what is regarded as a model primary campaign for Democrat Michael S. Dukakis in 1988. "You want your campaign on TV, free or paid."
Mr. Clinton had the biggest campaign fund until the waning days in New Hampshire.
His backers in Maryland have promised he will be a television presence in Maryland. That plan may still be in place -- but Mr. Tsongas was on the air in Maryland first, in paid advertisements last weekend.
At yesterday's rally, veteran political observer and retired Circuit Judge Edgar Silver said he thinks Mr. Tsongas will do well in
Maryland because he is a battler, a man who had cancer and survived. Marylanders -- and American voters in general -- always admire those who prevail against the odds.