Excitement, anxiousness abound as Election Day nears

It has been a polarizing and sometimes uncomfortable campaign for president, but Democrat Beverly Wilson and Republican Gary Collins will miss the election when it's over.

Wilson, a retired Howard County voter, was so nervous about the heated rhetoric that she opted against putting up a Hillary Clinton yard sign for fear it would be vandalized. Still, the endless political analysis on cable news has been a soundtrack playing in the background for months. Come next weekend, she said, it won't be the same.


"It's crazy, but I've been following politics since Barack Obama won and now I can't stop," said Wilson, 70, who cast an early ballot for Hillary Clinton. "I'm enjoying it."

Collins, who has helped organize volunteers for Donald Trump in Baltimore City, doesn't agree with Wilson's politics but he, too, will lament the end of the campaign.


"Without question this has been the most enjoyable process I've been a part of in 10 years of political activism," said Collins, who works in the financial industry. "The energy and the excitement ... that Mr. Trump has brought to the table is something exciting to see in Maryland politics."

Whether excited or exasperated, millions of voters in Maryland and across the country will head to the polls Tuesday to close out one of the most unusual and divisive elections in generations. After the raucous primaries, two dozen debates and a deluge of news about private email servers and sexist remarks, voters will finally choose the nation's 45th president.

Clinton and Trump, both with historically low popularity, are marching toward an increasingly tight finish in battleground states such as Nevada, New Hampshire and Florida. Control of the Senate may hang on those same states, along with Indiana, North Carolina and Missouri.

In Maryland, voters will decide eight House of Representatives races, fill a rare open Senate seat, and choose Baltimore's next mayor at a time when the city is still grappling with the death last year of Freddie Gray and subsequent riots.

Nearly 860,000 Marylanders cast a ballot during the state's weeklong early voting period, which ended Thursday — about double the number who took advantage of that option in the 2012 election. State party data suggest that the increase has more to do with voters becoming comfortable with early voting rather than unusually high interest in the election.

About 4,000 Democrats signed up for same-day voter registration during the early voting period, compared with 2,000 Republicans — an indication that more new Democrats are voting in Maryland than Republicans. Same-day registration isn't allowed on Election Day.

With turnout now a singular focus for the campaigns, candidates began their final sales pitch to voters over the weekend. Clinton was in Florida and Pennsylvania on Saturday, ending the day with a Katy Perry concert in an effort to appeal to millennial voters.

Trump touched down in Florida, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado, boasting at a morning rally in Tampa that he didn't need celebrities by his side to court voters.


"We do it the old-fashioned way," he said.

Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, the major-party candidates running for retiring Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's seat in Maryland, both campaigned Saturday in the Baltimore suburbs, territory traditionally viewed as up for grabs for either party.

Green Party candidate Dr. Margaret Flowers also is seeking the seat.

Szeliga has touted her status as a mother, grandmother and small businesswoman while emphasizing her support from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The state lawmaker spent much of the day in Eastern Baltimore County, stopping by the same Dundalk diner Trump visited during his brief swing through the Baltimore region in September. She was in Towson earlier Saturday for the dedication of a memorial for veterans who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The enthusiasm factor for change is very, very rich," said Szeliga, of Baltimore County. "People are just upset with government and they're looking for a way to change Washington."

Van Hollen, a Montgomery County man whose campaign has focused on his 25-year record in office, stumped Saturday with Mikulski, Sen. Ben Cardin and other Democrats at the 32nd Street Farmers' Market and a Greek festival in the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood. He had a different take than Szeliga on the state's political landscape at the end of a long campaign trail.


"I do sense a good amount of enthusiasm," Van Hollen said. "But I still encounter a good number of Republicans who are refusing to vote for Donald Trump."

Polls indicate that Maryland voters are poised to hand Clinton an even wider margin of victory than they gave Obama in 2012, when the president beat GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney here by 26 points. The state has the potential to deliver Clinton one of her widest margins anywhere in the country.

But there has been no public poll conducted in Maryland since the end of September. Trump supporters say they are convinced the tightening national race will close the gap in Maryland, despite Democrats' 2-1 registration advantage.

"This election has never been about Democrats versus Republicans," Collins said. "It's about the establishment versus the outsider, and Mr. Trump is obviously the outsider in this election."

In Baltimore — where incumbent Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is leaving her office up for grabs and there are eight open seats for City Council — candidates also were beginning a final stretch of campaigning on Saturday.

Democratic mayoral nominee Catherine E. Pugh attended a series of events with Van Hollen and Mikulski in Baltimore, including at the farmers' market.


"We're continuing to run our ads," Pugh said. "My mindset is on 8 p.m. Tuesday night when the polls are closed, and prayerfully we can focus on moving the city forward."

Fellow Democrat Sheila Dixon, a write-in candidate who narrowly lost to Pugh in the primary, said she plans to have her volunteers at polling places throughout the city on Tuesday.

Republican Alan Walden said he's continuing to work to get his message out through "civil discourse," which he contrasted with the bitterly fought campaign for president. And Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris predicted an election night surprise.

"We're going to shock the world," he said. "People are excited to have an option."

Voters elsewhere in Maryland will send two new congressmen to Capitol Hill — one from the Montgomery County-based 8th District and one from the 4th District, centered in Prince George's County — to succeed Van Hollen and Rep. Donna F. Edwards. Edwards gave up her seat to run an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic Senate nomination this year.

Democrats Jamie Raskin, a state senator from Takoma Park, and Anthony G. Brown, the former lieutenant governor from Mitchellville, are heavily favored to claim those seats.


In the 6th District, incumbent Democratic Rep. John Delaney faces Republican Amie Hoeber, a former deputy undersecretary of the Army. Delaney narrowly won a second term in 2014, and this year's race has become the state's most expensive general election House contest.

If Republicans have an Election Day surge, or if Democratic turnout is lower than expected, the 6th District will be the race to watch in Maryland.

Delaney has spent about $1.6 million during the campaign, including increasing sums from his own pocket. Maryland USA, a super PAC funded by Hoeber's husband, has invested about $3.4 million in the race. Both have run television commercials, but the Hoeber super PAC went off the air earlier this fall and, as of Friday, had not bought additional time for the final days of the campaign.

Political operatives in Maryland have already largely shifted their attention to 2018, when Hogan comes up for a second term. They will carefully parse the results Tuesday for signs of Hogan's prospects. And because Delaney has been rumored to be considering a run for governor, his margin will offer clues about his potential strengths and vulnerabilities as a statewide candidate.

The outcome of the Senate contest may offer insight into recent Republican claims that Maryland is turning purple. Van Hollen is heavily favored to win the contest, but if Szeliga can capture even 40 percent of the vote, that would be a big win for the GOP in a blue state like Maryland, said St. Mary's College political scientist Todd Eberly.

And it would potentially give the party some momentum heading into the midterm elections.


"She's run probably the best campaign she could, but she's playing with the hand she was dealt," Eberly said of Szeliga. "Put her in an off-year election and it's a different set of circumstances."

Still, the 2018 election is an eternity away for most voters. The election at hand, some said, has given them enough of politics for a while.

"It's been a circus, and I'd like for us as a country to get back to the normalcy of everyday life," said Phillip Mark, a 45-year-old Howard County Democrat who works in the hospitality industry and supports Clinton.

"I just hope the country can come together and rally behind whoever is elected the winner."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.