CRISFIELD -- Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg, despite staff upheavals and a sharp drop in his poll standings, reaffirmed his candidacy for governor here yesterday and predicted victory.
Mr. Steinberg, joining scores of other candidates and braving sweltering heat and draining humidity at the annual J. Millard TC Tawes Crab and Clam Bake, used the occasion to showcase a new campaign manager, his third since last fall.
The crab feast, named for Maryland's governor from 1959 to 1967, drew a record 5,500 persons, according to the event's chairman, Scott Tawes, nephew of the state's late chief executive.
Mr. Tawes said the crowd would consume at least 300 bushels of number-1 Jimmie crabs and , 37,000 clams along with corn, trout, onion rings, sweet potatoes and about 40 kegs of beer.
Since it began 17 years ago, the Eastern Shore crab feast has grown into one of the major political events of the summer season, drawing politicians from across the state.
"This is the place to be today," said Annapolis lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano.
"This is the Super Bowl of state politics."
Mr. Steinberg's new senior strategist is ex-state legislator Peter A. Bozick, 69, a one-time journalist, public relations man and beer distributor who said he has been "kind of retired" for the past four years.
Mr. Steinberg described Mr. Bozick as "a person who understands Maryland, the process and Mickey Steinberg and the kind of person I am."
The lieutenant governor said he was undaunted by the latest independent poll results, published yesterday, which showed him dropping into fourth place among four major candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
He said his first reaction on reading the poll was to recall how poorly Harry S. Truman fared in public opinion surveys in 1948, only to defeat Thomas E. Dewey on election day. "He won, and Mickey Steinberg is going to win," said Mr. Steinberg.
Mr. Bozick said he is aware of Mr. Steinberg's problems with previous campaign managers and had made it clear that he needed the authority to do the job right.
"I told Mickey you can't run a campaign and be a candidate at the same time," said Mr. Bozick. "There has to be only one captain on the ship. That will be me."
Mr. Bozick served briefly in the House of Delegates, then 12 years in the state Senate, representing a Prince George's County district. He did not seek re-election in 1982.
Mr. Steinberg, a one-time front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination, received the support of only 11 percent of likely voters polled by Mason Dixon Political Media Research of Columbia. The poll is conducted for The Sun and other news organizations.
Mr. Steinberg said he expects his popularity with voters to rebound as a result of an impending television advertising campaign.
Mr. Bozick, a close friend of Mr. Steinberg's running mate, state Sen. James C. Simpson, said the television ads probably will begin late this month or early in August.
In addition, Mr. Bozick said, he plans to dispatch Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Simpson to every county in the state on a bus tour.
"I want Mickey and Jim Simpson to take a page out of Bill Clinton's book," he said. "Have a Mickey mobile."
All seven major gubernatorial candidates were here, each with a tent and attendants.
U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, who led the Republican gubernatorial field by more than 30 percentage points in the Mason-Dixon poll, worked the crowd in her trademark red skirt trimmed with elephants, symbol of the GOP.
Despite her lead, Mrs. Bentley said she did not consider the battle for the nomination over. "If I see one of my staff coasting, the black whip is out," she said.
The Democratic front-runner, Parris N. Glendening, headed off in search of voters with an entourage that included Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, both of whom have endorsed the Prince George's County executive.
Like Mrs. Bentley, Mr. Glendening warned supporters not to ease up. "The election is far from over," he said.
Baltimore state Senator American Joe Miedusiewski, who leap-frogged Mr. Steinberg and Montgomery state Sen. Mary H. Boergers into second place in the poll behind Mr. Glendening, said he was already seeing fresh interest in his candidacy.
"I couldn't get out of the house this morning, the phone was ringing off the hook," he said.
The polls showed Mr. Glendening with 38 percent, Mr. Miedusiewski with 16 percent, Mrs. Boergers at 12 percent, and Mr. Steinberg with 11 percent.
Mrs. Boergers, shaking hands in the steamed crab line, said she was not concerned by the polls. She said she plans to air television commercials in September, "When it really counts. . . . When the voters start focusing."
The two Republicans trailing Mrs. Bentley -- House of Delegates Minority Leader Ellen R. Sauerbrey and William S. Shepard, who headed the GOP ticket in 1990, both brought a busload of supporters to the crab feast. Neither seemed intimidated by Mrs. Bentley's lead.