A political campaign is a contact sport that is waged on the financial as well as the psychological level. Much like any poker tournament, from the random house game to the World Series, winners and losers are decided on a variety of criteria including skill, strategy, the best hand and sometimes pure luck.

With the backdrop of a poker table in mind, here is how I see the current main players among the Republicans seeking to be Maryland's next governor:

Jay Bala (the new guy) — Mr. Bala has run for office before in Charles County but this is his first time in the main event. Positive: He will take chances on issues that no one else in the field will talk about. He will add excitement to the table because he will not hesitate to speak on any issues that are asked of him. Negative: Mr. Bala's inexperience is apparent because his strategy has not caught up with his enthusiasm.

David Craig (the seasoned veteran) — Mr. Craig has served for almost four decades in elective office and has been successful in campaigns from city council to Harford County Executive. Positive: He is a consummate pro. As the Kenny Rogers song says, "he knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em." Negative: Mr. Craig is too predictable to win. He is the player that everyone knows but no one is afraid to play.

Ron George (the experienced player) — Mr. George is a business owner, has served two terms in the House of Delegates and has been a successful legislator in cutting taxes in Democratically-controlled Annapolis. Positive: He is the situational player at the table who plays premium hands but will chase down the Ace-Queen flush draw if he smells an opening. Negative: Mr. George balances all of the odds in his head before he makes a decision. Players like this miss opportunities to win because they are still deciding what to do when the action is over.

Larry Hogan (the bluffer) – Mr. Hogan, a former appointments secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and business owner, has never been elected to office but ran a competitive campaign for Congress against Rep. Steny Hoyer. Positive: His cat and mouse strategy is the hallmark of a good bluffing technique; keep your opponent off balance and guessing what might happen. Negative: Like most bluffers, once they get in the game, the mystique wears off and then they have to put up or shut up.

Charles Lollar (the personality) — Mr. Lollar, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and business owner, ran against Representative Hoyer in 2010. Positive: Out of all the players, Mr. Lollar has the skill to use his charisma to change the dynamic at the table. Mr. Lollar's personality allows him to take and survive some risky moves other players will not attempt. Negative: Confidence at times seems like arrogance. More experience in winnable situations is needed to transform this player into a champion.

Unlike the last four gubernatorial election cycles, Maryland Republicans have a choice in their primary, and that choice is great for the party. Five different candidates with a wide range of abilities, demeanor and experience should make this a year to remember. Next month, the cards will be dealt and we will know the final seating assignments. Can't wait until they "shuffle up and deal."

Antonio Campbell, Towson

The writer is professor political science at Towson University.

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