Larry Hogan, the Republican candidate for governor, spent part of Tuesday afternoon walking up and down Frederick Road in Catonsville, shaking hands and hoping to win over voters.
"Baltimore County is really important to us — we've been just about everywhere — Catonsville is a place where we're doing really well and where a lot of people are voting," Hogan said, taking a break in his campaign bus parked across the street from Atwater's Naturally Leavened Bread and Bakery Cafe.
With less than a week until the Nov. 4 general election and early voting in full swing, Hogan and his Democratic competition — Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, have been making appearances across the state in an increasingly close race, according to several polls.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, has made three appearances in Maryland in support of Hogan — two in Montgomery County and a third in Glen Burnie.
"Baltimore County is usually, in most elections, a real bellwether," Hogan said, referencing former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich's win in 2002 that included a victory in Baltimore County. "Our polls have us winning in Baltimore County by 19 points."
Both candidates have made appearances in Catonsville. On Oct. 24, the Brown campaign held an event at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus.
"The Brown-Ulman campaign has a strong presence in Baltimore County, with two field offices, over 20 staff and several hundred volunteers reaching out to voters each day and night to spread the Brown-Ulman message. But Anthony Brown isn't taking a single vote anywhere in the state for granted and he's fighting for votes in every precinct, in every county all across Maryland," said Brown campaign manager Justin Schall on Wednesday.
It is Baltimore County's size and partisan diversity that makes it so important in this race, said Laura Hussey, associate professor of political science at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"It's attractive territory to campaign on for Democrats and Republicans alike, because both can reach large numbers of voters registered with their party relatively efficiently and simultaneously to get their message out to those outside their base," Hussey said.
Prince George's County has 427,946 registered Democrats, Montgomery County has 357,137 and there are 297,506 registered in Baltimore County. Baltimore City has 293,242.
While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1, that doesn't necessarily mean they will vote for Democrat.
"There are a lot of voters who will consider crossing over if they believe it's the right person for the job," said Hogan, an Anne Arundel County businessman who served as the appointments secretary in Ehrlich's administration.
Baltimore County Democrats say Hogan might win their county, but that doesn't mean he will win the election.
"I'll be honest, I do think Hogan has a shot at winning Baltimore County, but I don't think that it means he's going to win the gubernatorial election," said Brian Bailey, a member of the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee, who recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for state delegate in District 12.
Bailey, a Lansdowne resident who campaigned for the state delegate post in District 12 that includes Catonsville and Arbutus, said he thinks the current election cycle favors Republicans so Democrats are trying to encourage voter turnout in heavily Democratic areas such Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George's County.
Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who represents District 10 that includes Catonsville, Woodlawn and Windsor Mill and also a member of the county Democratic Central Committee, said she doesn't believe a recent Gonzales Poll indicating Brown is leading by only two points.
"I don't believe it's that close," said Nathan-Pulliam, who is running for the open state senate position for District 44 that includes Catonsville and West Baltimore.
"I've heard a story that Brown will just carry out the policies of [Gov. Martin O'Malley]," Nathan-Pulliam said. "I don't believe that story — he's quite capable of thinking for himself."
Political experts are divided on the outcome of this election.
Hussey said she expects Brown will win.
"The state partisan balance being what it is, it's sufficient for Brown just not to alienate Democrats and make sure Democrats show up at the polls, especially in the state's largest counties," Hussey said. "Hogan...must persuade large numbers of Democrats to either vote against their party or stay home.
"This task is not quite so daunting as it sounds, though, because Republicans consistently do better in gubernatorial elections than in party registration statistics, suggesting that more than a few Maryland Democrats aren't exactly loyal partisans."
But John Dedie, political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex campus, wrote in an email that Christie's continued appearances in Maryland means Republicans think they can win.
"If I was the Brown campaign, I would be worried a lot," Dedie said.