Before this year, Dr. Richard Manski's only political involvement was studying health-care issues for the Maryland State Dental Association.
Then the bug bit.
Now the 40-year-old Republican finds himself dealing with issues ranging from crime, taxes and education to welfare and health-care reform as he battles veteran Sen. Paula C. Hollinger to represent the sprawling new 11th District of Baltimore County in the state Senate.
Dr. Manski, an associate professor at the University of Maryland Dental School, was unopposed in the Sept. 13 primary, while Ms. Hollinger waged a tough campaign to defeat Sen. Janice Piccinini for the Democratic nomination.
A Boston native who moved to the county in 1985, he places himself in the center of the political spectrum, calling himself "a fiscal conservative and a social moderate." His health-care credentials and political outlook persuaded U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a crusader for moderation in the GOP, to speak at Dr. Manski's campaign launching last month.
"I'm a different candidate, probably different from anyone else in the legislature," Dr. Manski said, describing himself as "an academic with scientific training."
In addition to a dental degree from Howard University, Dr. Manski has a master's degree in business administration from the University of Massachusetts and a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland.
He remains the underdog in a Senate district with a 2-to-1 Democratic majority.
The boundaries of the 11th represent political deals that were struck after the 1990 census to create a predominantly black 10th District based in Randallstown to the south.
The 11th now includes portions of the heavily Jewish and relatively liberal-voting Pikesville and Owings Mills communities, moderate to conservative areas along the York Road corridor and conservative sections in rural northern communities.
Over the past few years, many Jewish families from Ms. Hollinger's old district -- or their children -- have moved from Randallstown to Owings Mills, giving her an advantage in the primary. But Dr. Manski, who also is Jewish, said he sees that shift as an advantage for him.
"Their parents voted for her, but the children are more conservative. They have more in common with me," he said. "We need people to know that she is a big spending liberal. She will not help the next governor reduce taxes and cut spending."
Lacking name recognition, and with only $17,000, Dr. Manski has been spending mornings and evenings on street corners, waving signs at motorists.
In contrast, Ms. Hollinger said she spent $160,000 in the primary. But she said she probably won't raise much more for the general election.
Dr. Manski said he supports term limits for office holders and strict curbs on campaign spending. "Why should you spend $100,000 for a job that pays $28,000? It's influence," he said.
He said Ms. Hollinger has become a full-time legislator, while he works full time to support his wife, Marion, and their sons, Scott, 4, and Eric, 8 months.
"This is not a career move for me. I'd like to serve two terms then make room for someone else. If you've been in office for eight years, you're stale," he said.
Dr. Manski said the main issues in his Senate campaign are "crime, jobs, taxes and welfare reform."
He promised a detailed welfare reform plan that "will provide a safety net but end the cycle of government dependency" by limiting recipients to five years of benefits while permitting them to work.
"We must begin to reconstruct the family," Dr. Manski said. "The government must not be the family of last resort."
He opposes parole for violent offenders and wants to see plea bargaining reduced. On capital punishment, he said, "I don't like the death penalty, but it's necessary."
Ms. Hollinger, a nurse, has been prominent on health issues during her 16 years in the General Assembly, but Dr. Manski said his experience in the field makes him even more valuable.