As presidential candidates -- from state to state in the hectic, far-flung race for the Republican nomination, attention is about to be paid to Maryland.
At least three presidential hopefuls have scheduled stops here before Tuesday's primary election. And with schedules changing almost hourly in this topsy-turvy election season, even more candidates might drop in.
On Saturday, TV commentator Patrick J. Buchanan plans to visit Baltimore.
On Monday and Tuesday, Maryland's own Alan L. Keyes plans to visit several sites around the state.
"It's about time," Joyce Lyons Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said with a laugh. "I think people in Maryland will finally start focusing on the primary this weekend."
This primary season is the most compressed in history, with elections bunched into a pattern that produces a contest every few days. And results have been unpredictable.
Even with polls showing Mr. Dole ahead in Maryland, many Republican politicos believe the state's primary is far from decided.
"My reading right now is the Maryland primary is wide open," said Kevin Igoe, state coordinator for former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander and a former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.
According to a Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research poll reported last night on WMAR-TV News Channel 2, Mr. Dole was the choice of 32 percent of likely Republican voters in Maryland.
Mr. Dole's support held steady from a Mason-Dixon poll one month ago; he garnered 31 percent then.
Mr. Buchanan was second in the new poll with 20 percent, a sharp rise from his 5 percent last month.
His new support came largely at the expense of publisher Steve Forbes, who dropped from 23 percent in January to 13 percent in the new poll.
Mr. Alexander registered 14 percent, compared with 6 percent last month. "Others" garnered 8 percent, and 13 percent of those polled were undecided.
The poll was based on interviews conducted Feb. 23-25 with 375 likely Republican voters.
State Republican activists never did expect much attention from presidential candidates, because Maryland shares its primary day with seven other states (Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont).
In addition, Maryland's election is squeezed between South Carolina's on Saturday and New York's next Thursday.
"These presidential campaigns have never been under this crunch before," said Lance D. Copsey, regional political director for Mr. Alexander and a former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party. "It's hard to get every place you want to be."
Mr. Alexander has no plans to campaign in Maryland "at this time," Mr. Copsey said from Georgia. But, he stressed, plans are constantly changing. And Mr. Forbes, fresh from Tuesday's primary win in Arizona, has announced no stops in Maryland.
Mr. Buchanan plans to kick off the candidate parade through the state with a brief visit to Baltimore on Saturday morning. Yesterday, his handlers on the campaign trail in Georgia said the time and place have not been finalized.
But, they said, Baltimore is to be the first stop of a busy day. From here, Mr. Buchanan is to fly to Massachusetts, Maine and Georgia.
On Sunday, Mr. Dole plans to lead a rally at 12:30 p.m. at the Montgomery County fairgrounds in Gaithersburg. After that, he plans to meet with veterans near Baltimore at a time and place still undetermined, said Tony Caligiuri, head of the Dole campaign in Maryland.
On Monday and Tuesday, Mr. Keyes plans to return to his home state.
A resident of Darnestown in Montgomery County, Mr. Keyes twice ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate and worked as a radio talk-show host. An electrifying orator, Mr. Keyes has finished far behind the major candidates in early primaries and caucuses.
Terry Turner, his state campaign director, said that Mr. Keyes plans to deliver "a basic stump speech" at 2 p.m. Monday at Montrose Christian School in Rockville. Other plans are tentative, Mr. Turner said, including possible visits to Frederick on Monday morning and Annapolis on Monday night.