It was classic Barbara Bush.
The first lady had just set foot in the lobby of Baltimore's Harbor Court Hotel for a campaign fund-raiser yesterday when she spotted a baby.
With her Secret Service entourage in tow, she halted to admire 2-month-old Chelsea Chalhoub, who was in Baltimore with her mother, Peggy, to visit relatives.
Because the encounter was unexpected, Mrs. Chalhoub seemed even more thrilled to see Mrs. Bush than were the 140 Bush supporters who paid $500 each to eat a seafood lunch with her. The event raised $70,000 for the Bush/Quayle re-election campaign.
Asked if she will vote for President Bush in November, Mrs. Chalhoub, a flight attendant, replied:
If Joyce L. Terhes had her way, the Bush/Quayle campaign would capitalize even more on the winning ways of the first lady.
"I would like to keep her on the campaign trail from now until Nov. 3," said Ms. Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party. "The love affair that America had with her four years ago is still going on.
"We've not had many first ladies where what you see is what you get. Barbara Bush is so honest, so open," she said after the fund-raiser. "That's been her attribute from the very first, in contrast to Nancy Reagan."
Some say it's the Grandma Factor that keeps America hooked on Mrs. Bush, who yesterday wore her trademark pearls with a red dress.
"All of us react to small children and mothers, but not every first lady would be the grandma and go over and hug the baby and show such sincerity," said Ms. Terhes, referring to the incident in the lobby.
Chelsea's mother, who lives in Laurel, and friend Debi Rivera of Chicago had stopped in the lobby to make a phone call when the first lady arrived around 11:30 a.m.
"She came up to Chelsea and she said, 'Oh, how cute! How old is the baby?' " the delighted mother recalled. "Talk about being in the right place at the right time! I can't believe it!"
The fund-raiser was organized by Baltimore attorney George Beall and his wife, Carol; Gregory and Lisa Barnhill; and H. Furlong Baldwin, among others.
Mr. Baldwin, chairman of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., is no stranger to the fund-raising circuit. He served as a co-chairman for a June fund-raiser for Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, a Democrat running for governor.
Those attending yesterday's luncheon included Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall, arguably the GOP's best hope for governor in 1994; former U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall Jr., a Republican from Western Maryland; and state Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., an attorney from Baltimore County.
Some local Republicans are concerned about Mr. Bush's dip in the polls and the momentum surrounding his Democratic challenger, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Delegate Ehrlich said.
"Clinton came out of the convention strong. He came out stronger than [1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael S.] Dukakis did four years ago. But that's the kick you get coming out of the convention," he said, adding that Mr. Bush will receive a similar boost after the GOP convention next month.