Each weekday morning rush hour, thousands of commuters streaming south on U.S. 1 from Harford County receive a symbolic reminder about who is the favored candidate in Maryland's 2nd Congressional District.
At U.S. 1 and Mount Vista Road, a 6-foot-long, blue-and-white sign hitched to a farm fence announces, "Ehrlich." Farther south into Baltimore County, a similar campaign sign trumpets the same name - along with that of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.
Campaign signs or bumper stickers are scarce for incumbent Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s opponent, north Baltimore County farmer Kenneth T. Bosley, a Democrat.
The contrast between Ehrlich and Bosley is telling.
Listen to the executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, Robert Johnson, speak of Bosley: "There has to be a monumental confluence for him to pull this off. The Second is a tough district for us."
Although the contest might be one-sided, there's far more developing behind the scenes in Annapolis and Towson that could have long-term consequences for Ehrlich.
Those developments could cause considerably more headaches for the incumbent, who in 2002 wants to run for governor.
"Sure, I am looking at the governorship," Ehrlich said.
He and other political observers confirm that a statewide congressional redistricting blueprint due out in 2002 would make a gubernatorial bid difficult.
The thinking goes that redistricting could make him an underdog in the next congressional election, thus forcing him to run for governor with an eroded power base.
"Everybody has a map in their pocket in Annapolis, wanting to get in and talk with Gov. Parris Glendening," said Frank A. DeFilippo, a veteran political analyst and writer who was a top aide to former Gov. Marvin Mandel for eight years.
"The Democratic Party wants to get Dutch [Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger] out of the governor's picture, so Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend can be the candidate and have the ability to draw far more contributions than anyone else," he said.
The redistricting being crafted by Glendening would shape a "bulletproof" district for Ruppersberger, DeFilippo said. That might include chopping the current 2nd District in half - not a good omen for the incumbent.
Ehrlich, a star in the GOP constellation, is looking to be re-elected to a fourth term in the House.
The Arbutus native, 42, has state and federal campaign chests brimming with nearly $1.1 million, with more expected from Washington fund-raisers. Ehrlich also has high name recognition, a deep professional campaign staff and a firm grasp of the issues.
And the congressman has a strong base of support in Harford County.
"Bob Ehrlich is a good partner to Harford countians, most importantly toward the county's largest employer, Aberdeen Proving Ground, where more than 10,000 military and civilian personal are stationed," said Harford County Executive James M. Harkins.
Harkins said the Army base has an annual payroll of over $400 million and contracts worth $500 million each year. "That's a huge impact for us, and Bob gets lots of cross-over votes because of his attention there."
Bosley, 70, has some signs sprinkled through the three-county district and distributes bumper stickers at bull roasts and other campaign stops.
An energetic man, Bosley acknowledges that covering the district - all of Harford, a big chunk of Baltimore County and a sliver of northeastern Anne Arundel - is a huge task.
"One Saturday I went to three different bull roasts in all three counties," he said. "I was bushed."
Last week, outside Kenwood High School in Essex where Ruppersberger debated Perry Hall Republican Del. James Ports over neighborhood renewal, Bosley's son and campaign manager, Webster Bosley, said the police were harassing him for distributing campaign literature.
"I didn't even know if he was a cop," Webster Bosley said. Indeed, the man who questioned Bosley's politicking was a Baltimore County police officer assigned to Ruppersberger's security detail.
Besides his son, Kenneth Bosley doesn't have a regular staff.
With four weeks left to win the hearts and minds of the district's 600,000 residents, Bosley has yet to hold a fund-raiser. As of last week, he had not raised the minimum $5,000 in contributions to be registered with the Federal Elections Commission.
While Ehrlich can talk long into the night about local and national issues and potential solutions, Bosley sometimes experiences difficulty identifying the major planks in his own platform.
"This is not about money," said Bosley, a retired Air Force officer. "Everybody says Ehrlich can't be beat. But in World War II, everybody said the Germans couldn't be beat. But they were."
Bosley, who for 20 years lobbied Congress on national security and foreign policy issues, says he is committed to protecting the environment, schools and farms. He thinks taxes on Social Security should be eliminated, and he supports a simple tax return based on a flat tax rate.