THREE EVENINGS a week since April, Jim Brochin has been knocking on doors in northern Baltimore County seeking to become a state senator.
"Hi, I'm running for office in your district," his spiel begins at each door.
Never mind that the election is two years away. Or that Brochin can't be sure where the boundaries of the 9th District will be for the next election until the legislature goes through its once-a-decade redistricting.
That won't happen until early 2002, after final numbers from this year's census are available. Boundaries for the state's 47 legislative districts should be set by March 2002 - six months before the September primaries that year.
The timetable forces would-be candidates in any district, including Democrat Brochin in the 9th, to make educated guesses about where to campaign.
As currently constituted, the 9th District includes the central chunk of Baltimore County, taking in everything from Stoneleigh to the Pennsylvania line.
Some Annapolis insiders predict that state officials will opt to make the 9th District - now represented by four Republicans - even more conservative by taking away some of its more Democratic precincts. The idea is to boost Democrats' chances in another district in the Towson area.
That could be good news for the 9th District incumbent, Andrew P. Harris, one of the most conservative members of the Senate.
With no name recognition, Brochin figures his best chance to unseat Harris is to go door-to-door. He estimates that he's knocked on roughly 1,500 doors since April and hopes to reach 10,000 by Election Day 2002.
Brochin is only 36, but he is a veteran of Maryland politics. He is probably best known for managing the low-budget, albeit energetic gubernatorial campaign of former state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski in 1994 - a campaign, by the way, that sharply ridiculed the credentials of the eventual winner, Parris N. Glendening.
Once an aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Brochin has written about politics for Baltimore magazine and has been a commentator for a local talk-radio station.
For now, he's concentrating his early efforts in areas north of Towson, such as Timonium, which he is confident will remain part of the 9th District.
In the 9th, home to many older, generally conservative voters, Brochin is trying to position himself to the right of many in his party.
"I'm a conservative Democrat. It's not an oxymoron," he told Jim Grem, a 69-year-old businessman who was sweeping his front walk one night last week.
"Now you have my curiosity," replied Grem.
"My whole message is cutting taxes and protecting the environment," Brochin said. "I'm also against gun control. It doesn't work."
Grem is a registered Democrat but says he routinely crosses party lines to vote for Republicans. After a few minutes talking to Brochin, he remains noncommittal.
"I'll give it some consideration," Grem said. "It's a little early."
Harris, a physician, won his seat by knocking off the district's longtime Republican senator, F. Vernon Boozer, in 1998.
An ardent opponent of abortion, Harris also helped lead the unsuccessful filibuster to stop an increase in the state's tax on tobacco last year.
He doesn't seem overly concerned about having a Democratic challenger campaigning aggressively more than two years before the election.
"Sure, I'd rather not have a candidate out there," Harris said. "But I'm always willing to discuss issues. God bless an opponent. That's the way the system is set up."
The incumbent added, though, that he may be forced to knock on doors in the redrawn 9th District to meet voters who now live in other districts.
The uncertainty of redistricting, he pointed out, affects all candidates the same.
"Everybody is at the same disadvantage," Harris said. "Nobody knows where the district lines are going to be."
Senate president to have new legislative assistant
Speaking of aides to Mike Miller, the Senate president will soon have a new top assistant. Longtime General Assembly analyst Melanie L. Wenger - an expert on tax and budget issues - will be taking over as Miller's legislative assistant.
That position has led to big paydays for some of its previous occupants. Bruce C. Bereano, J. William Pitcher and John R. Stierhoff all served as assistants to a Senate president, and all are now earning big bucks as State House lobbyists.
Miller's current aide, Steve Ports, who has moonlighted for years in a rock 'n' roll band, is leaving to devote time to music.