When Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa announced he would run for president, Nathan Landow, Maryland Democratic Party chairman and fund-raiser extraordinaire, was there.
When Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was organizing his campaign in Maryland, Mr. Landow advised the Clinton forces on picking their chief campaign aide here, attempting to replace the Clinton camp's selection in favor of his own.
Both sides won, and the Clinton campaign was directed by three or four veteran campaign managers.
Now, though, Mr. Landow is negotiating to become national co-chairman and fund-raiser for yet another contender, Paul E. Tsongas. Mr. Tsongas, the former senator from Massachusetts, won the primary in Maryland last Tuesday.
Mr. Landow said the Tsongas campaign came to him. Others say the party chairman concluded that Mr. Harkin can't win and that there's no room for him in the Clinton operation.
His affiliation with Mr. Tsongas is not a done deal, however.
"We have a few more discussions. If it works out I'll be with them. I haven't finalized it with them," he said.
The Tsongas campaign in Boston did not return a call requesting confirmation yesterday. Mr. Landow said he expected to complete his negotiations next week. One member of the current Tsongas team, he said, is an old ally from the 1984 Mondale campaign.
Discounting any previous talk of his association with Messrs. Harkin and Clinton, Mr. Landow says he has settled on Mr. Tsongas after scrutinizing all of the candidates as they campaigned in Maryland.
"I just feel Paul's economic message is resonating throughout the country," he said yesterday.
And he thinks Mr. Tsongas can win.
"I think Maryland proved that he has national appeal. I like what he's saying," he said.
A major national fund-raiser during the presidency of Jimmy Carter and a financial backer of the party's 1984 nominee, Walter F. Mondale, Mr. Landow supported Sen. Albert Gore Jr., D-Tenn., in 1988, and he has been a proponent of a new and more conservative message for his party.
As an early member of the moderate-to-conservative, business-oriented Democratic Leadership Conference, Governor Clinton appeared to have the inside track on Mr. Landow's backing this year.
Why, then, didn't Mr. Landow sign on with the Arkansas governor?
His differences with Mr. Clinton are philosophical, he said. He thinks the Arkansas governor has abandoned the conservative principles he started with in an effort to appeal to urban voters.
"My concern with Clinton came with his coming in as a Democratic Leadership Conference spokesperson, bringing the DLC message, and it seems to have gotten muddled with the start of the campaign.
"The more I hear of it, the more I think the Tsongas message on the economy is where we have to be in November."
One of Clinton's supporters in Maryland, though, found the chairman's position curious.
"Bill Clinton's message hasn't changed at all," said Lanny Davis, who is also a Democratic National Committeeman from Maryland.
"If Nate wants to change his mind, that's his privilege. But it's wrong to suggest it's Clinton who has changed. It's Nate who's changed."
Mr. Landow said he was not familiar with the talk linking him to Mr. Harkin. But he acknowledged that he had advised the Clinton campaign on who it should hire to direct its effort in Maryland.
Mr. Davis said Clinton finance managers in Little Rock, Ark., the campaign headquarters, didn't think Mr. Landow raised enough money in an event he insisted on running for the Clinton campaign in Maryland.
"We did his biggest event in Maryland," Mr. Landow said. "It was OK. We did it on short notice."
Mr. Landow's alliance with Mr. Tsongas could prove problematic later, since he might be called on to mediate between the Tsongas and Clinton forces in the Maryland delegation at the party's New York nominating convention.
But Mr. Davis isn't worried. "Traditionally they're supposed to be neutral, but by virtue of the party rules, party chairmen have to be committed to a candidate. As long as Nate doesn't tilt the party resources in any one direction or another it's OK. He's been pretty neutral on those things."
"Usually it doesn't matter, but with Nate it matters," said a party official who has warred with Mr. Landow over various matters, including the use of party funds.
Mr. Landow said he hopes the party will be able to unite behind one candidate soon -- so it will have a better chance against the Republican nominee.
As for the upcoming primaries, Mr. Landow said he expects Mr. Tsongas to do well in Florida.
He said he thinks Mr. Clinton will be largely a regional candidate even if, as expected, he does well when the Southern states hold their Super Tuesday primary March 10.
An important Tsongas-Clinton showdown will come as populous Midwestern states such Michigan and Illinois hold their primaries, he said.
Though most of Maryland's elected Democratic officials endorsed Mr. Clinton early, Mr. Landow said he wanted to remain neutral until the primary was over here. He now joins Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening in the Tsongas camp.