They're out there, in the sun, in the rain, in the exhaust fumes. They're out at day's first light, standing on corners and waving energetically at motorists. They're out doing a minuet with stop lights, pirouetting into stopped traffic to offer campaign brochures.
They're politicians. And they want your vote.
"You have to go where the people are," says Blair Lee IV, columnist for the Montgomery Journal. "And where the people are is stuck in traffic."
No one's sure just how long ago a candidate first lugged a campaign sign to a traffic light and began waving at strangers.
But each new election year sees more politicians, especially candidates for local offices, staking out curbside positions for rush hour.
What does all this waving accomplish?
"I guess occasionally it's comforting for voters to know that candidates can smile, wave and stand up all at the same time," said Harrison Hickman, Democratic consultant and pollster.
It seems such an insubstantial form of campaigning: a smile and a wave, perhaps a handshake through an open car window. There's no time to discuss issues. But some candidates swear it's an important piece of their campaign strategy.
"It reinforces that you're out there working," said Baltimore Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, who's running for re-election in Northwest Baltimore's 42nd District.
"You can't go door-to-door when you're running statewide, but people like to see you," Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Boergers said this week as she waved at evening rush-hour traffic at the corner of Falls Road and Northern Parkway.
There's no exact name for the practice. Some candidates call it "a wave." Some list it on their schedules as "visibility" -- e.g., "4:30 - 5:30, visibility, Falls Road and Northern Parkway."
A good example of how it works: the 43rd District Senate race, in Northeast Baltimore, which pits the incumbent, Baltimore Sen. John A. Pica, against Del. Curt Anderson.
One morning this week both candidates positioned themselves on Loch Raven Boulevard -- Mr. Anderson and his backers on the median at Northern Parkway, the Pica contingent on the traffic islands at The Alameda.
Mr. Anderson, in suit and tie, was fresh from a couple of hours of riding buses to greet early riders. But now it was 7 a.m., the sun was just clearing the treetops, and the candidate and a dozen supporters were waving and cheering the drivers who honked their horns. Behind the candidate, Brian Carreras, 15, was slowly waving a giant American flag, which rippled majestically.
The traffic light changed. Mr. Anderson, who had been waving at northbound cars, now sprinted to the other side of the median to catch the east and westbound traffic. "This side, everybody. This side." And then he was into traffic to shake hands.
This was Mr. Anderson's 50th "wave" of the campaign. He and his backers are out there three mornings a week, on the same corners.
"Repetition is the key," he said. "People say, 'I know this guy.' People have seen me every Thursday morning on the same corner for three months. That's got to count for something. There's no scientific research on this, but I believe it's got to
Is this a good use of a candidate's time? "Absolutely," Mr. Anderson said. "What else can a candidate do at 7 o'clock in the morning?"
A couple of miles south, Mr. Pica and about 10 of his troops were spread across the intersection at The Alameda. They had no flag. What they did have was Mr. Pica's 15-year-old daughter, Lacy, holding her father's blue-and-white sign. And they had Eric Smith, 29, on roller blades, gliding between lanes of traffic with his Pica sign.
Mr. Pica, shirt sleeves rolled up, also is out three mornings a week, but he and his volunteers use a variety of corners. And the candidate darts into the roadway as soon as the light turns red to talk to drivers. He hands them his brochure, plus a copy of his newspaper endorsements, and asks "that you keep me in mind on election day."
"We don't just wave," said Mr. Pica, who's sometimes stranded on the white line between two lanes of moving traffic when the light changes. "I shake hands with every driver while the traffic lights are red.
"I've made speeches on buses filled to capacity at red lights. I jump on. I pay my fare. And I talk."
Political scientists say this curbside politicking is a natural evolution in the art of the campaign. Candidates who used to haunt factory gates now find those work sites shuttered, while more voters are in their cars commuting to the office. So the candidates have adapted.
No one, apparently, has yet written a doctoral dissertation studying how, exactly, waving is supposed to help voters. But political observers have some theories.
"It's not substantive at all. It's purely psychological and emotional," said Matthew A. Crenson, political science professor the Johns Hopkins University.
"You're supposed to get a sense of personal attachment to the candidate," said Benjamin Ginsberg, director of the Center for the Study of American Government at Hopkins. "If they could kiss your baby, they would do that. This is wholesale baby-kissing."
Not all candidates feel compelled to go wave at traffic. Chief among those who decline: the Democratic front-runner for governor, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening.
"He likes to meet real voters, in person," said his campaign manager, Emily Smith. "And unfortunately, when you're standing traffic, you can't do that.
But other candidates are out there waving hard.
"Particularly if the race is very crowded, or if you're not known, anything you can do to boost your name recognition is important," said Eric Uslaner, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
"You can't say the wrong thing," Mr. Lee said.
"It's like television without the audio: 'You can't hear me. But I'm here, so vote for me because I got up at 5:30 in the morning. That's how desperate I am.' "
Mr. Lee doesn't believe that the candidates are projecting a flattering image with all of this waving.
"Would you hire somebody who was waving to you in a cloud of exhaust as you're on your way to work?" he asked. "Would you hire a lawyer or a CPA that way? I've always thought standing on a street corner waving in the rain should immediately disqualify you from elective office."