JIM BROCHIN HAS the face of a choirboy, the smooth patter of a born politician and the shoes of a man who has walked, say, from here to Argentina, which might not be far off the mark.
Brochin, you see, is a conservative Democrat - he insists this is not an oxymoron - running for state senator in the 7th District, which consists of Towson, Timonium, Cockeysville and portions of northeastern Baltimore County and southwestern Harford County, including Fallston, Abingdon and Joppa.
In his campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Andrew P. Harris, Brochin says he's knocked on some 8,000 doors in his heavily GOP district in the past 2 1/2 years, which accounts for his marathon-runner's physique and the god-awful shape of those black wingtips.
Knocking unannounced at someone's door is not for the timid, or for anyone with an undersized ego.
Brochin, who's 38 and lives in Towson, has had enraged dogs hurl themselves against screen doors to get at him. He's been caught in sudden thunderstorms with low-level lightning. He's been mistaken for everything from a proselytizing Jehovah's Witness to the only thing that's scarier: a home improvement contractor handing out flyers.
And, over and over, he's also had the pleasure of dealing with the enlightened citizen who's irate because Brochin's knock has interrupted Wheel of Fortune and the guzzling of another fine product from the Anheuser-Busch breweries.
On a recent evening pounding the sidewalks on Greenside Avenue in Cockeysville, though, all was right in Jim Brochin's universe five months before the election.
The dogs were all well-behaved, the rain was holding off and the inherent surliness of some homeowners was nowhere to be found - if you don't count the man working in his garden who threw down his spade and spat "Nope" when Brochin asked if he had a moment.
"I believe this district [consists of] conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans who want government off their backs, their taxes cut and their open spaces preserved," Brochin had said earlier at his campaign headquarters in Timonium.
"[But] it's a tough district. I honestly believe 80 percent of the people who meet me will vote for me. But they gotta meet me." And as we set out walking, Brochin said his goal was to meet one out of every three people who might vote for him.
Then he ticked off the do's and don'ts of his door-to-door campaign: Don't go much before dinnertime, because the voters might not be home from work. Don't knock after dark or they'll take you for an ax murderer.
Don't walk on their lawns. When they come to the door, you have just a few seconds to engage them; after that, their thoughts will drift to the roast in the oven or the brilliant, 3-goal performance little Timmy will undoubtedly turn in that night in lacrosse.
This is Brochin's first run for office, but he's no political Doogie Howser.
He was the campaign manager for American Joe Miedusiewski's bid for governor in 1994 and a professor of political science at Towson University. (He also worked for a health-care insurer and has a real estate business, although he's now devoting all his time to the campaign.)
And, as personable as he is, Brochin also seems up to trading gut-shots with his opponent.
He paints the conservative Harris, a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist, as somewhat to the right of Torquemada, as a cold-hearted ideologue woefully out of step with the wishes of his constituents on women`s rights, the environment, and public health and education issues.
"I honestly am astounded at the political philosophy that is represented in my district," Brochin says, managing, like all good politicians, to sound genuinely honest and astounded at the same time.
So for two hours on a cloudy evening, he knocks on the doors of registered voters in this tidy neighborhood of ranchers and split-level homes with well-kept yards.
He keeps the message simple: I'm running for the Senate. I'm a fiscal conservative. I want to cut the state income tax and preserve open spaces. What are your concerns in Annapolis?
The reaction is pretty much what you`d expect. Most who come to the door listen politely for a few seconds. But their body language screams: It's been a long day. Make it snappy, pal.
"You don't see too many conservative Democrats," says a man Brochin hails on the sidewalk.
"We're a Republican house," says a woman, looking at Brochin as if he were lightly coated with anthrax.
"I'm not in favor of KKT," says a man, apropos of nothing, referring to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Democrat running for governor.
"Neither am I," Brochin tells him.
A friendly woman working in her garden tells Brochin she's concerned about escalating health-care costs. Another woman, out for an evening walk, accepts Brochin`s campaign flyer and says: "Women's rights?"
"I'm big on that," says Brochin.
"I'm pro-choice." She nods, satisfied with the answers.
A woman in a corner house lists her concerns: "The environment. The Chesapeake. The birds and air and water." A man in his back yard says vehemently: "If they keep raising the cigarette taxes, I'm leaving Maryland."
Brochin agrees that taxes in general are way too high and mentions he's also in favor of legalizing slot machines as a revenue-producer for the state. The man grunts, but says nothing.
"You give it to 'em straight," says Brochin after we leave the man. "They might not agree with you. But they'll respect you."
Two hours later, after a quick swing through the tony neighborhood of Willow Vista nearby, we're back at his 1991 Chevy Cavalier, as battered as his wingtips.
It's been a good night for Jim Brochin. No Rottweilers have lunged at him, no lightning bolts have cleaved his chest, not one door has been slammed in his face.
For a door-to-door politician, why, it's been almost like paradise.