Such a move could draw as many as 10 people applying for the vacancy, Hemphill said. Democratic Central Committee Treasurer Terry L. Smith said he expects about a half dozen people will formally apply to the vacant seat if Poole is appointed to the judgeship by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
"Probably twice as many people will think about it," Smith said.
In addition to Hemphill, those who say they are strongly considering seeking the seat are Boonsboro Mayor Charles F. "Skip" Kauffman Jr., United Way of Washington County Executive Director Kathleen Hall and Randy G. Changuris, who ran unsuccessfully against Poole in the 1994 primary election.
"I would go ahead with it in a minute," Hall said.
If Glendening appoints Poole to the bench, it would also be the governor's decision to select a replacement in the legislature. But the Democratic Central Committee would likely play a key role in the appointment by nominating a candidate, or a list of candidates, for Glendening to approve.
In addition to being Democrat and a resident in Poole's district, which covers the southern and most of the eastern part of the county, potential applicants will also have to make a commitment to run in next year's elections for a full four-year term in office, Democratic leaders said.
The Central Committee would like to have the seat filled in time for the General Assembly's annual 90-day session, which starts next January. That way, the appointee could have a year to build legislative experience, as well as name recognition, before the 1998 elections.
"That way, the new delegate would have time to find out what's going on," Smith said.
In 1990, Patricia K. Cushwa was appointed to the state Senate four months before the general election by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer to fill the seat vacated by her husband, Victor Cushwa. But she never served during a legislative session and was soundly beat that year by Republican Del. Donald F. Munson, who still holds the Senate seat.
"Certainly, being an incumbent is no guarantee (of victory), but it does give you an advantage," Hemphill said.
Especially since the incumbent wouldn't have to knock on doors, raise thousands of dollars or go through any of the other rigors of a political campaign for state office, he said.
But Hemphill warned there is a danger, too, especially if the appointee makes some political gaffes during the upcoming session. That could help stir opposition among Republicans who already see Poole's possible departure as an opportunity to take a seat from the Democrats, Hemphill said.
"It's not an open seat, but it's more open than running against Bruce would be," he said.
H. Victoria "Vikki" Nelson, a member of the county Republican Central Committee, agreed that the possibility of Poole leaving the legislature will likely draw greater interest among GOP candidates.
"Whoever comes in there (as a candidate for the Republicans) is going to be stiffer competition than if Bruce was there," she said.
Nelson said the Democrats could be further hurt by a lack of political coattails for Glendening, who was beaten in the county by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the 1994 general election.
But all is on hold until the judgeship is filled - a process that in the past has taken as long as several months to complete. And there will likely be other local applicants competing against Poole for the job.
"Just because Bruce is going for it, there is no guarantee he will get it," Hemphill said.
Meanwhile the possible candidates are left to ponder their chances and their willingness to vie for the seat.
Kauffman, 47, said he has several issues to resolve before deciding to seek the seat, most importantly being able to fit the demands of a delegate with his full-time job as controller at Brook Lane Psychiatric Center. He said he also does not want to seem like he is turning his back on the issues in Boonsboro.
"There are quite a few issues I would have to resolve before I go after it 100 percent," he said.
Hemphill, 44, who said he would remove himself from the nominating process if he chose to seek the seat, said he also has personal and professional issues to resolve before he seeks Poole's seat. He has asked for a state Attorney General's opinion to see if he can hold his current job as the county deputy clerk of courts and also be a delegate.