After 15 years of advising political candidates, Patrick E. Gonzales wants to become one himself.
The 44-year-old St. Margaret's resident is ending a polling contract with Anne Arundel County to pursue plans to run for the County Council next year - and eyeing the District 5 seat held by Republican Cathleen M. Vitale of Severna Park.
Gonzales says he may even jettison his lifelong Democratic Party affiliation and become a Republican, setting up a primary election showdown with Vitale in the GOP-heavy Broadneck area district.
Gonzales admits he faces a tough sell, even if he would save money on polling.
"A lot of political consultants have run and been unsuccessful," he said yesterday. "But what was their motivation? My motivation is inside me; I have an itch I gotta scratch."
Vitale had no comment. Diane Evans, a former county councilwoman, has also been mentioned as a potential contender. She could not be reached for comment.
Evans knows about switching parties: She became a Democrat before her failed bid for county executive in 1998.
Gonzales, a partner in the Gonzales/Arscott Research and Communications polling firm in Annapolis, has worked for candidates locally and nationally. He has advised County Executive Janet S. Owens during her 1998 Democratic campaign as well as the Maryland State Teachers Association.
But he has always operated behind the scenes.
"If we did a poll, I don't think my name recognition would be terribly high," he said.
He said he plans to spend the summer studying and "absorbing," having learned that candidates should not speak unless they know what they want to say.
"I'm a pretty quick study, so I figure by Oct. 15 I will start promulgating my views and opinions and rationale for running," he said. He also hopes to hold a fund-raiser over the summer.
A lifelong Democrat who "enthusiastically" voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976, he said he may switch parties - after some soul-searching: "I am exploring what is best for me, what is it that is truly Patrick. What is it I want to say and what is the best affiliation to have with that? It is not going to be for political expediency."
In addition to ending his $52,000-a-year job with the county, Gonzales will no longer do political consulting, though he will continue to do other kinds of market research for his firm.
Owens, a Democrat, said she was "utterly amazed" to learn of Gonzales' political aspirations. "I've never thought of Patrick as a candidate because he's always been an adviser."
Owens said she's "very fond" of Gonzales. "He certainly is astute politically. But it's very different being a candidate than an adviser."
And if he runs as a Republican, Owens said she won't support him: "I am absolutely a Democrat."