Now that Republicans have chosen their candidate in November's race for Anne Arundel County executive, Democrat George F. Johnson IV says he's eager to begin the campaign.
"It's time to roll our sleeves up," said Johnson, who faces Republican Steve Schuh in the Nov. 4 election. Schuh defeated incumbent Laura Neuman in last week's primary.
Johnson, 60, has outlined a platform of spending more on schools and teacher salaries, supporting public safety and completing pollution control projects. Schuh, 53, is stressing a campaign promise to lower property taxes and ease government regulations to spur economic development.
Statewide attention — and a barrage of media coverage — was focused on the GOP primary race, but Johnson says it's not a done deal that Republicans will carry the day in November's general election.
It's the second go-around for Johnson, a career law enforcement officer and former sheriff who is now superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police. He ran for county executive and lost to John R. Leopold in 2006. For that race he raised more than $1 million — at the time the most an Anne Arundel executive candidate had ever gathered.
Campaign finance records show Schuh, a former investment banker, spent that much on the primary alone — $1.07 million, including repayment of loans Schuh made to his campaign. Now, Schuh says, "we are broke. We will need to refill our campaign coffers, and that will be one of our first orders of business."
Democrats have a numeric advantage over Republicans in Anne Arundel, with 147,023 voters to 123,746 for the GOP. But the county has 74,718 unaffiliated voters and a tendency to lean to the right on Election Day. Six of the eight county executives since the office was created in 1964 have been Republican, and the county reliably favors Republican presidential candidates. Republicans hold a majority on the County Council and among the county's delegates in the General Assembly.
Johnson may have the advantage of a united Democratic Party backing his effort. While Schuh and Neuman were duking it out on primary night, Johnson made the rounds at Democratic parties, shaking hands and networking with candidates and donors.
Schuh, meanwhile, must heal a fractured GOP that endured the divisive campaign between himself and Neuman. At a Republican unity event in Severna Park on Thursday, Neuman pledged her support to her former rival.
Schuh said he planned to take a brief breather from the campaign trail, then start running against Johnson.
"I'm energized. I'm looking forward to the general election," he said.
Both say they'll focus on their policy differences. But with almost five months until the general election — and summer vacations on many voters' minds — it might take some time for the campaigns to pick up momentum.
"By and large, people are on vacation. They're really not thinking too much about politics," said Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College. "You're waiting on the fall before you start campaigning in earnest."
Schuh and Johnson will likely spend much of their summer filling their coffers for what could prove to be an expensive contest. If Schuh is broke, Johnson isn't far ahead — he showed just $62,427 cash on hand at the beginning of June.
Johnson acknowledges that Schuh is likely to raise more money. A successful businessman, Schuh has an ability to lend himself cash that Johnson — a cop for 40 years — does not.
"I'm not as well off as Mr. Schuh. I'm going to grassroot it," Johnson said, though he pointed to his 2006 campaign as an indication that he'll do just fine financially. "Nobody out-campaigned me then. Nobody's going to out-campaign me now."
Handicapping the race, Nataf said Schuh is good at talking about nuanced policy issues and likely has a better fundraising network. Johnson, on the other hand, has a reputation of being likable and honest, and expresses more of a broad vision to voters, he said.
Johnson, who lives in Pasadena, was popular as county sheriff from 1994 to 2006.
Schuh, who lives on Gibson Island and owns a condominium in Annapolis, made his money in investment banking and now owns restaurants, a health club and a golf course.
"It's two different personas, two different profiles," Nataf said. "In a sense, they couldn't be more different."