Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr., rising star of the Republican presidential campaign, is but a faint glow on the political horizon in Maryland.
Surging in polls in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Mr. Forbes has no campaign office in Maryland and no state organization.
His national headquarters in Bedminster, N.J., does not respond to questions about his strategy for the March 5 Maryland primary.
But the multimillionaire publisher with his flat-tax proposal seems to be making inroads in Maryland anyway.
"People call all the time, they walk in off the street asking for Forbes' literature and bumper stickers," says Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party. "But we don't have anything. It's embarrassing."
State Republican officials repeatedly have requested literature from Mr. Forbes' national headquarters, Ms. Terhes says, "but we've gotten no response."
Despite this apparent snub, Marylanders don't seem offended. A recent poll by Mason-Dixon Political Media Research, the Howard County polling firm, paid for by WMAR-TV and other media clients, showed Mr. Forbes with 23 percent support among likely Republican primary voters in Maryland. That is a phenomenal surge from the 2 percent he garnered in a Mason-Dixon poll in October.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas led both polls, although his support slipped from 41 percent in October to 31 percent late last month.
Just which Republicans make up this 23 percent bloc for Mr. Forbes is a mystery to party regulars.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who heads Texas Sen. Phil Gramm's state campaign, says they appear to be potential voters just glad "he's not one of those people who've been in office forever."
Kevin Igoe, state coordinator for former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, one of the Republican hopefuls, says he has yet to come across a Forbes supporter at GOP forums, dinners or anywhere else.
"I can't name a single individual who's working for Forbes," Mr. Igoe says.
But there in the front row, waving his hand high is Timothy Lloyd Tilghman, a 33-year-old Republican activist from Towson.
One of three Forbes delegates to the Republican National Convention, Mr. Tilghman says he liked Mr. Forbes from the moment he announced his candidacy in the fall.
"He's been running for president for just four months and taken the wind out of the sails of someone running for 16 years," Mr. Tilghman says, referring to Mr. Dole. "That doesn't happen unless people truly are responding to Mr. Forbes and his message."
Mr. Forbes' message is anti-Washington and includes congressional term limits and a single-rate income tax of 17 percent.
He favors mass TV advertising over the traditional method of collecting endorsements and grass-roots organizing.
Mr. Tilghman says he's trying to fill the void in Maryland by distributing literature and bumper stickers and meeting with other Forbes supporters.
Also, Mr. Tilghman says, he expects the national campaign to open a Maryland office this month, just in time for the state's March 5 primary.
If Mr. Forbes follows early form, he will campaign here by saturating radio and television stations with hard-hitting ads -- ads aimed at voters such as John Armiger and Bill Hanna.
Mr. Armiger, 51, owns Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium. He voted for President Clinton in 1992, but says he has an open mind this year.
He likes what he's seen of Mr. Forbes.
"He comes closer than any of the candidates to capturing the imagination," Mr. Armiger says.
Mr. Hanna, also 51, is a produce farmer in northern Harford County. He says he's not too sure about the flat tax, but likes the idea of something new.
"I'm the first to admit I know more about corn and beans than politics," Mr. Hanna says.
"But at this point, I'm leaning toward the rich man, you know."