For years, he was the state senator with too many letters in his name to attempt pronunciation, the guy who ran a Canton bar with 75-cent Natty Boh on tap and a quarter-a-game pool table -- a "must" stop for Democratic pols wooing the East Baltimore vote.
But nearly 10 months ago, American Joe Miedusiewski donned a statesman's blue suit, climbed into his leased Lincoln Town Car and began criss-crossing Maryland to convince voters he was a serious candidate for governor.
Since then, Mr. Miedusiewski, 44, and his 30-year-old campaign manager, James Brochin, have been waging a street-smart, old-fashioned bid for governor -- an operation run on a shoestring, mostly out of the trunk of the car.
They are trying to make real the improbable dream of putting a tavern manager with a lackluster legislative record on the second floor of the Maryland State House.
the stump, Mr. Miedusiewski (pronounced Med-a-SHEF-ski) attempts to set himself apart from other Democrats in the Sept. 13 primary by taking a conservative tack. He pledges a small businessman's approach to cutting government and creating jobs, and says he would champion tough new sentencing and welfare laws.
He is a tireless campaigner who listens to voter concerns with the keen ear and patience of a bar-keep. And though his dark-horse candidacy seems to hold an unlikely payoff -- he was running third in a poll released this week -- voters across the state who meet him often are impressed.
"He's genuinely interested in hearing from people," said David C. Smith, who owns a tennis and racket club in Allegany County, near the West Virginia border.
Mr. Smith met the candidate while he was on a sweep through Western Maryland in June. He said this week that he still plans to back Mr. Miedusiewski, partly because of his message to small business.
"He has his own ideas, but he's willing to take information back from us and incorporate it," Mr. Smith said.
But the image Mr. Miedusiewski portrays as a conservative Democrat is sometimes at odds with his legislative record.
For instance, though he says he would be a friend to business as governor, he has a career rating of just 55 percent from Maryland Business for Responsive Government, a pro-business group. As a candidate for governor during this year's legislative session, Mr. Miedusiewski apparently found the group's positions more compelling, earning an 80 percent rating.
He has also been a stalwart supporter of organized labor over the years, consistently winning high marks from unions, reflective of his working-class constituency.
Mr. Miedusiewski has introduced little statewide legislation, a point he readily concedes. He points mainly to the bill that created the Maryland Film Commission, which he views as an economic development initiative.
There's no mistaking, when you look down the list of bills that I've introduced, most of them are local bills," he said. "I was a local legislator. I passionately represented my district."
He says voters should judge him now for his proposals as a statewide candidate.
Indeed, many Miedusiewski watchers say he has stepped smoothly this year from the back bench of the Senate to become a force at the gubernatorial plate.
"He's done a much better job at running for governor and campaigning for higher political office than he has as a state senator," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat.
Mr. Miller, who has wavered in his choice of a gubernatorial candidate, forked over $1,000 to help Mr. Miedusiewski early on while also supporting Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg. He is leaning toward the front-runner in the race, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening.
Still, Mr. Miller gives high marks to Mr. Miedusiewski's candidacy.
"He's moved himself to great heights in his campaign," Mr. Miller said recently.
"He has a very polished presentation, is very articulate on issues. There is not a person who's seen the candidates debate in person . . . who has not been impressed by American Joe Miedusiewski."
One person who has not been impressed is Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse. Mr. DeMarco faults Mr. Miedusiewski for doing a flip-flop on the assault pistol ban enacted by the legislature this year.
Mr. DeMarco says he thought the group had Mr. Miedusiewski's support when he appeared with other city legislators at a MAHA news conference in January.
Within days, however, Mr. Miedusiewski wrote a letter saying he was still undecided.
Two months later, the measure came before the Senate committee on which he sits, Economic and Environmental Affairs, through a parliamentary maneuver aimed at keeping the legislation from being killed by another panel.
Mr. Miedusiewski voted against the bill, calling his action a protest of the breach in Senate rules. But he said he would support the measure on the Senate floor -- an assertion he repeated on a radio talk show the next night.