"Government in Maryland is out of control," Sauerbrey said. "I want to be in a state that is run like Harford County."

But Donald Norris, chairman of the department of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the Republican Party has moved further to the right since Sauerbrey led the party. He said Craig could very well lose the primary, especially if he has only one opponent from the tea party wing of the GOP.

Brian Griffiths, chairman of the Maryland Young Republicans, said Craig is a credible candidate with "a pretty good shot at winning the general election." But Griffiths said the primary will not be a "walkover" for him because some in the party suspect he's not conservative enough — partly because of Craig's focus on fiscal over social issues.

"It is a criticism I have heard from some people," Griffiths said. "I would not say it's widespread through the party, but it's out there."

Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Harford Republican, said that when party members learn about Craig's record, they'll be pleased.

"David's had many, many years of public service and he has a conservative record," she said. "How can they not like that?"

Young said his concern is that Craig doesn't have what it takes to energize the Republican base.

"People always say I've been able to fire up people," he said.

Craig is attempting to do what only one other Republican has done in the past 40 years: win the governorship in one of the most heavily Democratic states in the nation. The one Republican who did win, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002, lost his bid for re-election to O'Malley in 2006.

Despite that record, Craig promised to wage a competitive race.

"There will be some naysayers out there who say this race is already over," he said. "They don't know what it's like to put up with someone from Havre de Grace."

Craig was appointed county executive in 2005 to replace James Harkins, who resigned to take a position in the Ehrlich administration, and won election with 53 percent of the vote in 2006. In 2010 he faced no Democratic opponent and won re-election with 80 percent of the vote against a nominee of the far-right Constitution Party. Because of term limits, he cannot seek re-election.

While Craig has won most of his elections in Harford County — his 1998 loss to Harkins in the Republican primary was an exception — he is not known as a galvanizing campaigner or a favorite of grass-roots conservatives. Last year, though he was considered the front-runner for the GOP's 2014 nomination, he came in second in fundraising to Young.

Nevertheless, Craig led the field in a straw poll at the Maryland Young Republican convention over the weekend with 43 percent of the vote. Lollar got 22 percent and Young 17 percent. Steele did not receive any votes, Griffiths said.

If Craig wins the June 2014 primary, Norris said, he would still face long odds in Maryland's general election.

"A good Democratic candidate running a good campaign beats a good Republican candidate running a good campaign statewide every time, because the numbers are prohibitively in favor of the Democrats," he said.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com

David R. Craig

Job: Harford County executive

Age: 63

Resides: Havre de Grace

Party: Republican

Education: B.A., Towson University; M.A., Morgan State University.

Experience: Havre de Grace councilman and mayor, delegate, state senator.

Personal: Married to the former Melinda Blevins, three children

>Experience: Havre de Grace councilman and mayor, delegate, state senator.

Personal: Married to the former Melinda Blevins, three children