One is a bartender in Annapolis. Another has been imprisoned for spray-painting political slogans on government buildings. A third is a former commodities trader who owns a company that markets Maryland's official state dessert.
They haven't held elected office before, but they're aiming to start at the top — as Maryland's next governor.
While Democratic incumbent Martin O'Malley and Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. command nearly all of the attention in this year's gubernatorial race, theirs won't be the only names on the ballot. A colorful selection of seven people — mainly political outsiders — offer an alternative to voters unsatisfied with the two main choices.
These second- and third-tier candidates lack name recognition and a track record. But they nonetheless describe their operations as serious campaigns.
Their motivations for running are diverse: A self-styled teacher wants ethics reform; a man who has been locked up for failing to pay child support wants to change paternity rules; and the bartender articulated a vague wish that O'Malley would adhere more closely to the U.S. Constitution.
The major parties have coalesced around O'Malley and Ehrlich, meaning that the three challengers whose names will appear on September primary ballots face an uphill climb. The rest of the lesser-known candidates are affiliated with smaller parties that have posted few, if any, successes, even in local elections. Of the 3.4 million registered Maryland voters, only 13 percent identify with the state's four smaller parties — Constitution, Green, Independent and Libertarian.
Republican Brian Murphy, a former Constellation Energy derivatives trader, is by far the most organized of the pack. He is the lone candidate seeking to wrest the Republican nomination from Ehrlich and is attacking the former governor from the right.
"I'm not here to make a point; I'm here to win," he told members of the Campaign For Liberty, a Tea Party-affiliated group at an event last week at which he blasted Ehrlich for "reckless spending." Murphy, 33, told the audience that he's had "a lot of success" in business and focused his presentation on pocketbook issues. He pledged to end the state's income tax on corporations and to keep other taxes level.
Controversial topics that the main candidates have avoided emerged during a question-and-answer session. Murphy told the audience he opposes abortion, supports gun rights (though he doesn't own a firearm) and said illegal immigration is "immoral." He drew applause when he said that "being an American citizen is not a right to every person on this planet."
When a voter who described himself as a military veteran proclaimed that he was "sick and tired of what is going on" in Iraq and Afghanistan, audience members hooted in agreement. But Murphy hedged, saying, "I agree with everything you are saying, in theory."
Murphy, a Chevy Chase resident, is slim and appears not to eat much of the calorie-laden Smith Island Cakes produced by a baking company he owns. An ethics disclosure filing shows that he owns two other companies: the Plimhimmon Group, an investment firm, and Virginia-based Triumph Products, which markets shaving oil and other men's grooming supplies.
He has not yet filed a campaign finance report, so it is not possible to gauge the money behind his organization.
His campaign stumbled in June when his initial selection for lieutenant governor, former Carroll County Del. Carmen Amedori, withdrew from the ticket shortly after joining it, saying she did not think the team could win the primary. Still, she said in an interview that Murphy offers a good alternative to Ehrlich and predicted that he would receive much of the conservative vote in September.
O'Malley faces two Democratic challengers. Former Calvert County Del. George W. Owings III bowed out of the race in June, citing health problems. The remaining Democrats are unknown even to some veteran political watchers.
Ralph Jaffe, 68, is so unfamiliar with state government that he did not initially recognize that the man he stopped on the street recently to ask directions was O'Malley. Jaffe was on his way to the Board of Elections to file to run against him.
Partway through the conversation, Jaffe realized that he was talking to the man he hopes to unseat. "He's a charming man," Jaffe said. "I just don't think he's a good governor."
Jaffe lives with his sister and chose her as his running mate. He calls himself a teacher but does not hold a paying job. He runs an untraditional and unaccredited school out of his sister's home in Pikesville.
The candidate says he's disgusted by the mingling of money and politics and wants elections to be free from campaign donations. He plans to promote his candidacy via free media and word of mouth. Jaffe rails against "paid professional lobbyists," who he believes corrupt the political system.