The intrepid Victor Clark Jr. glad-hands his way through the Lexington Market lunch crowd, undaunted by the blank stares from voters who never heard of the Republican candidate for mayor.
"The election's not over. I'm Victor Clark. I'm running for mayor. We've got to go back to the polls. The election's not over."
He repeats it like a mantra, hoping it will sink into the brains of Baltimore Democrats, who outnumber Republicans 9-to-1 and thought the election was over last month when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke won the Democratic nomination.
Voters can hear the two candidates debate tonight at 7:30 at St. Mark's Institutional Baptist Church, 655 Bentalou St. in West Baltimore. There were no broadcast plans.
An accountant and car salesman who has made three unsuccessful tries for public office, Mr. Clark wants to become the first Republican mayor in City Hall in three decades.
He has a great smile, nice suits and loads of optimism. But he has only seven volunteers and a campaign manager who's a Democrat.
He boasts about winning the Republican primary against two opponents with a $22 campaign treasury. Now he's flush with $500 for the general election.
He's unconcerned about running up against Mr. Schmoke's million-dollar campaign machine. But Mr. Clark is not naive about his chances to win.
"I know what the odds are against me," says the 50-year-old graduate of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the University of Baltimore.
But the West Baltimore resident believes in the two-party system and in giving voters a second choice.
So he presses on through the market, using his best sales techniques -- flashing a smile, slapping backs and passing out his thrifty campaign literature reproduced on a photocopy machine.
Mr. Clark became a Republican 20 years ago, he said, because "I took a good hard look at politics and decided I related better to the principles of the Republican Party -- the work ethic, belief in God and the belief that government should not be intrusive in people's lives."
If elected mayor, he says, he would push for more juvenile drug and gun courts to clear up the backlog of drug-related cases. He also would equip police officers with video cameras and other surveillance devices to keep drug dealers out of communities.
By a seafood counter at the market, Antoinette Wise brings her baby stroller to a halt.
"You're running for mayor?" she asks, giving Mr. Clark an incredulous look.
"I'm not crossing the line," says the 22-year-old from Cherry Hill. "I am a Democrat, and Republicans are not for us black people. Even though he's black, he's going to be for white people. I don't know this man. I don't know anything about him."
Mr. Clark is unperturbed. He tells her he believes more people should start their own businesses to support themselves.
She yells back, "What about the homeless people. It's getting cold. You've got to think about the homeless. You Republicans don't think about the homeless."
A minute later he finds a friendly face. Theo George, a longtime friend who cuts his hair, is delighted to see him and says she may even vote for him. "I've always called him Senator Clark because he had a potential to be in the political limelight," she says.
Mr. Clark has been active in politics for many years and is currently second vice chairman of the state Republican Party.
"Victor is finally getting the recognition he deserves by winning the Republican nomination in a three-way fight," said Christopher West, executive director of the state GOP.
This year, for the first time in decades, the Maryland Republican Party is getting involved in a city election, said Mr. West. It will put out campaign literature to support Mr. Clark and the city's other Republicans.
As for Mr. Clark, the mayoral candidate doesn't believe in asking for help -- or even money.
"I have not solicited anyone for money because I wanted it to have only grass-roots support," he said. He also has refrained from asking for help from Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who lost the gubernatorial election last year, or from any national Republican figures, such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich or Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.
"They're too busy," says Mr. Clark as he shoves his campaign literature under windshields outside Lexington Market.
As for the Republican power brokers in Washington, they've probably never heard of Victor Clark.
When asked whether he had any plans to come to Baltimore to campaign for the mayoral candidate, Mr. Gingrich said he's too busy with the federal budget.
"I don't have time," he said.