The two men who want to be Anne Arundel's next county executive have taken different routes toward that goal.
Republican Steve Schuh, a state delegate, has spent 21/2 years setting up a network of volunteers and amassing more than $1 million in campaign donations. He won a bruising primary challenge against the sitting executive.
Democrat George F. Johnson IV, a former county sheriff and current Natural Resources Police superintendent, jumped into the race just a month before the February deadline to file — and his primary opponent promptly dropped out.
While their paths have been different, the two share a common vision: Both say they want to move Maryland's fifth-largest jurisdiction into the future — and past the tenure of John R. Leopold, the second-term executive who was convicted of misconduct in office last year and resigned in disgrace.
Schuh, 54, says it wasn't long ago that Anne Arundel was considered a "backwater county." He says the Leopold scandal — the Republican executive was found to have directed county employees to perform political and personal tasks — didn't help.
Schuh has organized his ideas into a five-point plan: cut taxes, build more schools, boost public safety, reform government services and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
"If we fall short on any of them, we've failed," Schuh said. "I think they're all achievable and they're achievable in the terms of the next county executive. It's a two-term job."
Johnson, 61, says Arundel was "stuck in neutral" during the Leopold years, and he's poised to move the county ahead with investments in schools and economic growth.
He has focused his campaign on what he calls his three R's: reinvest in schools and services, revitalize the economy and provide relief from taxes and fees.
"I have operational and administrative experiences," he said. "I've done it from the trenches, and I've done it from the top. The learning curve will be very short."
On many issues, Schuh and Johnson agree: hiring more police officers and firefighters, promoting the county to businesses, improving customer service in county departments. Both support efforts to curb stormwater pollution. Neither envisions major adjustments to the stormwater fees that pay for environmental projects.
But they do have their differences. Johnson wants to build a 13th county high school, in Crofton.
Schuh wants to build several more high schools — including one in Crofton — that are smaller than current schools. Each time a high school is due to be rebuilt, Schuh would replace it with two smaller schools, eventually doubling the number of high schools.
Schuh says his plan works because the smaller schools will have lower construction costs.
Johnson said the math doesn't work.
"He's tying the hands of future county executives," he said. "He's tying the hands of future school board members. He's tying the hands of future superintendents of schools."
The two also disagree on property taxes. Schuh wants a 3 percent cut. He says the reduction would average about $80 per home per year, while trimming $18 million from county revenues.
Johnson says he won't raise the property tax, and hints cuts could be possible — if the economy continues to improve.
"I'm trying to set us on a long-term course of tax and fee reduction," Schuh said. "My opponent, like other big-government politicians, believes all money belongs to the government."
Johnson says Schuh's tax cut is election-season pandering: "It's a sound bite to get elected," he said.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Arundel, but voters tilt to the right at the ballot box. The county has voted for the Republican nominee for president every four years at least as far back as the 1970s, and last voted for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate — William Donald Schaefer — in 1986. Six of the county's eight executives have been Republican.
Polling indicates the pattern might continue. An Anne Arundel Community College poll last week showed Schuh with a 14-point lead over Johnson — 40 percent to 26 percent.
Republican county chairman Nathan Volke said Schuh can make the county a statewide model for conservative leadership. The idea, he said, is to "take a big county like Anne Arundel and lead with Republican ideals."
Democratic county chairwoman Christine Davenport could not be reached for comment.
Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College described the race as a choice between an experienced administrator — Johnson — or "an entrepreneur by instinct" — Schuh.
Johnson "likes taking an office or department and trying to get it to work to meet people's needs," Nataf said.
Schuh, meanwhile, is "portraying himself as the change agent, and hoping that people see it, fundamentally, as a good thing."
Schuh has raised much more money than Johnson. He had spent nearly $1.5 million through Oct. 19, the most recent reporting period, much of it on his primary challenge against County Executive Laura Neuman. He reported $381,000 on hand.
Johnson, who had no money at the start of the year, raised nearly $300,000 through Oct. 19. He had $76,000 on hand.
Schuh, who grew up in Crofton and lives on Gibson Island, studied economics and government at Dartmouth College, earned an MBA at Harvard and worked as an investment banker.
He was elected to the House of Delegates in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. He is part owner of a golf course, a health club and restaurants, including the Greene Turtle.
If he's elected, he says, he'll put his business interests into a blind trust to prevent conflicts of interest.
Johnson, who was raised in Glen Burnie and now lives about six miles from Schuh in Pasadena, has spent his career in law enforcement. He started as a county police officer, then served three four-year terms as the county's elected sheriff, and has been superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police since 2007.
Johnson ran against Leopold for county executive in 2006 and lost by 2 percentage points.
He said his late start in the 2014 race shouldn't hurt him. His approach, he said, is the same: reach as many voters at as many events as possible.
"We don't compare ourselves to my opponent's campaign," Johnson said.
In contrast to the tense and often personal Republican primary between Schuh and Neuman, the general election campaign has been largely amiable. In more than a dozen forums and debates this fall, Johnson and Schuh have stuck mostly to the issues.
Neuman, who was appointed by the County Council in February 2013 to complete Leopold's term, has endorsed Schuh, but he said she has not assisted in his campaign.
Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said the primary was bound to leave some bad blood, but Schuh has worked to keep party loyalists behind him, spending many evenings wooing voters at small Republican club meetings and social events.
"It's to show them he still cares about the party faithful," Cluster said.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Rema Rahman and Elisha Sauers contributed to this article.
Steve Schuh, Republican
Resides: Gibson Island
The Morning Sun
Family: Divorced, two adult children
Occupation: Two-term state delegate; former investment banker, now a partner in restaurants, a golf club and a health club
George F. Johnson IV, Democrat
Family: Married, three adult children
Occupation: Superintendent, Maryland Natural Resources Police; former Anne Arundel County sheriff and county police officer