Steve Schuh

County Executive candidate Steve Schuh looks at the incoming election results with Annapolis City Mayor Mike Pantelides while at the Greene Turtle in Pasadena on Tuesday evening for County Executive candidate Steve Schuh's campaign. (Matthew Cole, Baltimore Sun Media Group / June 24, 2014)

Del. Steve Schuh declared victory late Tuesday night in the hard-fought Republican primary for Anne Arundel's county executive against incumbent Laura Neuman.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Schuh held a 54 percent to 46 percent margin of victory over Neuman.

Neuman congratulated Schuh via text message after midnight. She said she respected the will of the voters.

"We gave it everything we had," Neuman told reporters in a near-empty Annapolis restaurant that had been filled with supporters just hours before.

The race between Neuman and Schuh was intense, with months of fierce campaigning, three debates and more than a million dollars spent. Both candidates had radio and TV ads, an uncommon strategy for Anne Arundel County.

"I'm just so gratified the citizens of the county have embraced our vision," said Schuh, who celebrated with supporters at a Greene Turtle restaurant in Pasadena.

"This was an incredible primary," Schuh said. "Anne Arundel County has never seen a primary with this amount of energy."

Schuh will face Democrat George F. Johnson IV, a former county sheriff, in the general election.

Neuman, appointed as executive last year, and Schuh, a state delegate who built his campaign over the past two years, both said they had put it all on the line in a campaign that, at times, seemed to strain the GOP in Arundel.

Both criss-crossed the county Tuesday in a last-minute attempt to woo voters. Schuh was joined for part of the day by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., his highest-profile supporter. Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, shook hands with voters alongside Schuh in Severna Park.

"Win, lose or draw, we did everything we could do," Schuh said in the morning. "We will not look back and say 'Coulda, shoulda, woulda.' "

He said he felt voters swung to his side in the past few weeks. "At this point, I feel very good about our prospects," he said.

After voting Tuesday morning at Annapolis Middle School, Neuman had said, "I'm very peaceful. I've worked hard. It's up to the voters."

For Neuman, this race was her first run for public office. She was appointed by the County Council after John R. Leopold resigned when he was convicted of misconduct in office.

The intensity of the campaign was felt by voters. At Brooklyn Park Middle School, 39-year-old federal employee Brian Conklin said he doesn't ever remember hearing drive-time radio ads for county executive candidates before.

Conklin cast his vote for Schuh. "He's given me some pretty straight answers," Conkin said. "I've met the man. I looked into his eye. I trust him."

Ken Backus, a Glen Burnie office assistant who also voted at Brooklyn Park Middle School, said he picked Neuman. He liked "the fact that she's a woman and someone different" than politicians who have been in office for a while.

Light voter turnout was reported throughout the county, with voters trickling in throughout the day. At the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, chief election judge Ty Isaac said only 176 votes had been cast by late afternoon.

"One time, we had all eight booths taken up, but that was just once," Isaac said. "It's a primary; people don't care too much."

Others were watching a handful of contested County Council races, some of which ended with close numbers. For tight races, Board of Elections officials are expected to count absentee ballots beginning Thursday.