CRISFIELD -- Standing between the hospitality tents of Delmarva Power and Landmark Insurance, the mayor of Baltimore might as well have been at the busiest intersection in his home city.
Kurt L. Schmoke, who may run for governor in 1994, feasted yesterday on crabs and handshakes at the annual J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake.
He was three hours from home, but everyone seemed to know him. Polls show he is by far the best known of the potential 1994 gubernatorial candidates -- and judging by his reception here yesterday, he is a man people want to meet.
"Nice to see you. You're doing a good job," said a young woman, who shook his hand and hurried on.
"I'm hanging in there," Mr. Schmoke said.
"All you can do," she said over her shoulder.
"Are you going to run?" asked the next greeter, Dick Gebhardt of Bel Air.
"We'll see," the mayor said. "I'm going to decide by the end of the summer."
"Mr. Mayor. . . . Just wanted to say hello," called out another member of the passing throng.
Not far from Mr. Schmoke's vantage point, other hopefuls -- Democrats and Republicans -- were wading through the crowd with big smiles, bumper stickers and the latest word on their own plans.
Long established as a midsummer political tradition in Maryland, the event was named after a former governor and Crisfield native son.
It has become a must, according to Parris N. Glendening, the Prince George's County executive, who also may run for governor. "You can't not be here," he said.
An estimated 5,000 people were on hand for the corn, clams, crabs, fried fish and beer. There were also tents occupied by 51 corporations, labor unions and, of course, candidates.
One of the potential GOP candidates for governor, Robert R. Neall, the Anne Arundel County executive, said he has moved his explorations to a higher level.
Regarded as one of the strongest Republican candidates, Mr. Neall had hoped to remain uncommitted until the field narrowed.
Six months ago, when he came close to abandoning even an exploratory effort, Mr. Neall said he had "the latitude" to move slowly.
"I no longer have that latitude," he said. "I've been getting around and getting a good response. In 60 days, if it looks as good as I think it does now, we'll jump in."
Seeming to move slightly away from a commitment was Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., another potential Democratic gubernatorial contender. He said he would not decide finally for six months -- and hasn't ruled out another run for attorney general in 1994.
There was no doubt about the intentions of Democratic Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg. He had his own hospitality tent yesterday, decked out in his campaign colors of red, gold and black -- and plenty of conversation for visitors.
He met Bill Ebaugh of Ocean City, a 58-year-old retired tile worker, who gave Mr. Steinberg his name and volunteered to work in his campaign.
Mr. Ebaugh thought the day of schmoozing, even 18 months before the September 1994 primary election, was crucial for serious candidates.
"Some of 'em don't get out soon enough, and they lose by just a few votes," he said.
Also on hand yesterday were the Republican Party's 1990 gubernatorial candidate, William S. Shepard, who says he will run again next year, and Republican Del. Ellen Sauerbrey, the House minority leader, who says she is definitely in the race.
Mr. Schmoke arrived after most of his competitors had been working the crowds for two or three hours. But he came with a small army of City Council members and state legislators.
The mayor invited the 55 Baltimore elected officials and even the five metropolitan-area county executives to make the trek with him to the crab feast.
Shortly after noon in Baltimore, Mr. Schmoke climbed aboard a tour bus with his chief political adviser, Larry Gibson. The entourage of 30 included council members Joseph J. DiBlasi, William E. "Bill" Cunningham, Agnes Welch, Iris G. Reeves, Melvin L. Stukes and Paula Johnson Branch.
"I'm going to shake a lot of hands before I dig into the crabs," the mayor promised. "After that, I'm only going to shake the hands of people who have eaten crabs."
He kept his word. Not until late in the afternoon did he get a chance to taste the Old Bay.
In recent months, the mayor has appeared more and more frequently in the Washington suburbs, Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. He was spotted at a Latino festival in Rockville and spoke Tuesday night at a homeowner's association meeting in Clinton.
State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, called the trip "a show of strength."
"Right now, everyone is trying to figure out who the next governor is going to be," he said. "I think everybody's waiting for Kurt to make a decision."