Call him the surprise of this year's gubernatorial campaign. Call him No. 2 in the most recent polls. Just call him Joe.
His legal name is American Joe Miedusiewski, a real mouthful. He changed it in court to take advantage of his father's popular East Baltimore tavern, American Joe's, when he first ran for office. Then it was a decided plus. Now, the name strikes many voters as just too blue-collar Bawlamer, hon. Especially for a guy running for governor.
And yet, Mr. Miedusiewski has stunned his opponents with a well-crafted campaign that has hit a chord with many citizens. The state senator has turned into an articulate speaker, the best of this year's crop of candidates. He's adopted a tough-on-crime approach that's a big hit. He's also hammered away at the need for government to balance its budget before worrying about expanding programs. That's a hit on the hustings, too.
He has acted as the pesky guerrilla fighter lobbing grenades at front-runner Parris Glendening. He has mocked Mr. Glendening for eagerly jumping into an alliance with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, for promising lots of new state money to lots of different interest groups and now for masquerading as a "police commissioner" though Mr. Glendening was only a town commissioner in Hyattsville.
Mr. Miedusiewski has gone after the front-runner with a barrage of humorous radio ads. The Schmoke alliance prompted a "Love Boat" song; the spending commitments triggered a "Dragnet" theme, and the flap over being a police commissioner led to the latest ad equating Mr. Glendening's law-enforcement expertise with that of TV's dim-witted Deputy Barney Fife.
This off-beat approach has helped Mr. Miedusiewski jump to No. 2 in the polls. But he trails Mr. Glendening by a wide margin -- 38 percent to 16 percent. Still, for a guy who barely made a mark in the State House during 20 years of legislative service, that's quite an achievement.
Many voters may disagree with his positions (he's against liberalizing abortions, he's against handgun legislation, he voted against mass-transit for the city and is running an anti-Baltimore campaign though he's from the city). They may wonder why he did so little during two decades in the General Assembly. But Mr. Miedusiewski remains the public scold of this campaign, a one-man "truth squad" giving other candidates a much-needed reality check.