Most open their doors a bit confused, even quizzical.
For Catherine Benton, 85, the tall man standing on her driveway one recentafternoon was recognizable as the "medical guy" from Baltimore. But like manyAnne Arundel voters in the sprawling 3rd Congressional District, the detailsof the race are not so clear.
"I may vote for Beilencome. Am I saying that right?" she asks, momentsafter Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, one of the many contenders for the Democraticnomination, leaves her driveway.
"Or Ben Cardin. I do like Ben Cardin," she adds.
Only the Democratic congressman is running for Senate, not for re-election,she's reminded, making the race for the seat, open for the first time in 20years, a free-for-all.
Such are the challenges of campaigning in an oddly configured districtspilling into portions of four counties and composed of an enormously diversevoter base.
Eight Democrats and eight Republicans are vying for the congressionaldistrict, which was stretched into its current shape by former Gov. Parris N.Glendening's 2002 redistricting map. Many believe the reapportionment was inpart an attempt to punish Cardin, who flirted with the idea of challengingGlendening for governor in 1998.
Still, Cardin has won handily since then, and Democrats outnumberRepublicans 3-to-1 in the district - a reality that political observers saywill make a GOP win difficult.
The district's Democratic voters are evenly divided among Baltimore City,Baltimore County and Anne Arundel, with the remaining 10 percent in HowardCounty.
In a primary where only one candidate holds an elected public office, thisis a race where the undecided voter dominates. Nowhere is this more pronouncedthan in Anne Arundel County, where candidates are stepping up theircampaigning efforts, relying on local officials, politicians and even athleticcoaches to increase their profile in an area that could prove to be theultimate battleground in the Sept. 12 primary.
"Anne Arundel is the place to be," said Donald F. Norris, a public policyprofessor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "I think AnneArundel County is really going to be the deciding area."
Aside from perennial candidate John Rea, none of the Democrats are fromAnne Arundel, though one has significant work experience in the county.Baltimore County state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger is the only candidate who haswon an election before.
Also running on the Democratic side are Beilenson, former Baltimore Cityhealth commissioner; John P. Sarbanes, an attorney and son of U.S. Sen. PaulS. Sarbanes; businessman Oz Bengur; Kevin O'Keeffe, a former high-levelgovernment aide in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County; Andy Barth, aformer WMAR-TV reporter; and Mishonda M. Baldwin, an attorney and retired Armyofficer.
The difficulty in campaigning in Anne Arundel is that it is an increasinglyconservative district. This is a county where Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., aRepublican, won 65 percent of the vote in 2002 and where the Republican basehas been steadily growing.
ASun poll released last week showed that 48 percent of Anne Arundel voterssay Republicans are better able to handle the most important problems facingthe state, while 36 percent picked Democrats. Statewide, the numbers werereversed: 47 percent of likely Maryland voters say Democrats are betterattuned to problems, while 36 percent named Republicans.
And if Anne Arundel is the place to be for the Democrats right now, itsrole in the Republican primary is even more decisive. Nearly half of thedistrict's Republican voters are in Anne Arundel.
Physician Gary Applebaum, the leading Republican candidate in raisingfunds, is beginning his campaigning here.
With many of the Democratic candidates falling to the left of the spectrum,appealing to Anne Arundel voters can pose candidates with a marketingchallenge.
"The county is actually very conservative," said Robert J. DiPietro, formermayor of Laurel who previously worked for County Executive Janet S. Owens."But they're Reagan Democrats. They are generally very strong on fiscalconservative politics.
"They are very educated and astute so it'll be tough for candidates torepackage themselves."
Candidates will likely seize on issues like the environment that willresonate with conservative and progressive Democrats, said Keith Haller,president of Potomac Inc., a Bethesda-based public opinion research firm.
"You don't want to run as a liberal Democrat there," he said. "You want toavoid associations with harder left-wing groups.
"You need to moderate your rhetoric and positioning at least to stay in towin parts of this district," he added.
Hollinger, chairwoman of the Senate Education, Health and EnvironmentalAffairs Committee, is spending a lot of time in Annapolis, where her namerecognition is elevated, said campaign manager Lisa Nissley. Annapolis has amore progressive base than most other parts of Anne Arundel, politicalobservers say.
When Hollinger made an announcement that she was being endorsed by theMaryland State Teachers Association, Annapolis was the site of the newsconference.
She has also been out knocking on doors in the northern part of the countywith local delegates and senators. "I would say a lot of the people are notaware of the race until you make them aware of the race," said Hollinger.
O'Keeffe, who has worked as a high-level aide in Anne Arundel, said histime spent there gives him an edge with the largely undecided voters. "Havingworked for the county for six years, I really understand the issues in thecounty," O'Keeffe said. "And there is really nobody from there but John Rea.The opportunity in Anne Arundel is there."
The candidates say Anne Arundel voters have received their messages well,responding to many of the issues that interest other parts of the district,such as health care, the war in Iraq and the economy.
In an area where there are many veterans and active military members,concerns about the war and the Pentagon's base realignment and closure processare especially widespread.
That was evident on a recent afternoon in the Four Seasons neighborhood inwestern Anne Arundel, where American flags waved from nearly every house."Support our troops" bumper stickers were common. Men with military-emblazonedhats and shirts were frequent, and stories of Iraq casualties were mentionedmore than once.
John Sarbanes was knocking on doors with Anne Arundel County Councilcandidate Gerald J. "Jamie" Benoit Jr., who is running for the 4th Districtseat.
Benoit, who grew up in the neighborhood, introduced Sarbanes to voters,most of whom did not know who was running in the race nor for whom they weregoing to vote.
"I'll look into it," said Larry Voss, 39, as he took campaign literaturefrom Sarbanes.
"I'm really still making up my mind," said another Democratic voter,Stanley Baker, 59. "We've got a lot of good candidates."
Beilenson said he is in the midst of a six-week effort in which he goesdoor-to-door in different parts of the county. "Every day I'm in AnneArundel," said Beilenson.
Benoit, the council candidate, said that's time well spent for anycandidate.
"Most of the candidates here are virtually unknown," he said. "Theseprecincts here are very, very important. These are persuadable voters."
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