Mary H. Boergers plunges into the lunchtime crowd at Baltimore's Lexington Market, her enthusiasm unaffected by the fact that few people seem to know who she is.
"Hi, I'm running for governor," she says with a wide smile as she follows a small band of placard-carrying supporters through the maze of food stalls and produce stands. Her cheerful thrusts are met mostly with polite chatter, defensive handshakes and vague promises to follow her candidacy.
The less than rousing reception isn't a problem, Ms. Boergers says. Three months remain before the Democratic primary. And, buoyed by last week's endorsement from a national women's political group, the Montgomery County state senator says she is well on her way to raising the money for television ads that will spread her name across Maryland.
"That's the one way I have toreach people without having my message filtered by the perceptions of someone else," she said.
She betrays nothing but optimism about a gubernatorial bid that many others -- most notably the perceived front-runners in the Democratic field -- have attempted to wave off as an unrealistic long shot.
"Certainly, it's a bold move for me to run," Ms. Boergers said. "This campaign does not follow the traditional pattern of waiting my turn and having somebody anoint me."
To say the least.
As a legislator, Ms. Boergers has been largely a bit player in Annapolis save for her high-profile position on several women's issues, including abortion rights. She is little known among voters outside her home county. And to the extent she is known in Baltimore, it is largely because of her staunch opposition to the ongoing expansion of the Convention Center. She has not received endorsements from the state's major political power brokers.
But a key part of her strategy is to present those perceived shortcomings as proof of her political independence. Although she has served in the General Assembly since being appointed to a House seat in 1981, she has cast herself as an outsider in her attempt to become the first female governor in Maryland history.
"When I was asked to take a look at supporting Mary Boergers, my first reaction was, 'Oh, please,' " said Dorothy Simpson Dickerson, a lawyer who has since signed on as a member of Ms. Boergers' campaign finance committee. "But when I met Mary, I saw her as a fresh, vibrant, intelligent, articulate woman who had a point of view from the grass roots on up."
On the stump, Ms. Boergers, a 48-year-old former teacher and lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, comes across as a problem-solver unburdened by ideology. She supports tougher gun control laws. She is for increased spending in public school classrooms, but at the expense of administrative budgets. She says the people of Maryland are overtaxed. And she wants tougher prison sentences for violent offenders, but also more alternatives to incarceration for other criminals.
"When you go around the state, what is absolutely clear is that the voters of Maryland want a different kind of leadership," she said. "They are tired of the influence of special interests."
The female factor
Ms. Boergers also is pushing the fact that she is a woman -- something that provides an opportunity for a campaign that might otherwise be totally dismissed as quixotic.
"Oh, I think the fact that she is a woman is an advantage," said Brad Coker, president of Mason-Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia. "In a primary against three men, I think it helps her. It gives her a natural constituency that is present across the state."
Ms. Boergers' campaign already has gone further than many people expected. For months, it was widely assumed that though she said she was running for governor, she really was interested in being lieutenant governor or Montgomery County executive.
"That still comes up," she said. "My opponents keep feeding that. I think they're scared of my candidacy. But I'm in this until the end."
Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening is widely regarded as the Democratic front runner, in part because of his ample campaign treasury and armful of major endorsements. The other major candidates are Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg of Baltimore County and state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore.
But, while Mr. Glendening might be gathering cash and high-powered support, polls show that about 40 percent of the Democratic electorate is undecided -- leaving ground for optimism for all the major candidates, including Ms. Boergers.
Fueled by that hope, she has been shuttling tirelessly around the state in the family Oldsmobile, bringing her personable, common-sense pitch to voters.
She has been working hard -- and in virtual obscurity.