A longtime candidate and mostly outsider versus a longtime political insider?
That's the choice Democratic voters in Harford County's Legislative District 34 will make this primary election when they decide between two candidates for State Senate, Art Helton and Del. Mary-Dulany James.
Helton, who represented the county in the State Senate from 1975 to 1983, has made a number of attempts to regain that seat and for other offices in the ensuing 31 and a half years, none of them successful.
This year, he's locked in an intense primary battle with James, a 16-year member of the House of Delegates, for the open seat that was held for the past 16 years by the retiring Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican.
The winner of the Helton-James race will face Republican Bob Cassilly, a former Harford County councilman, in the November general election. Cassilly doesn't have an opponent in the June 24 Republican primary election.
Following redistricting in 2012, District 34 covers Harford County's Route 40 corridor, encompassing Havre de Grace, Aberdeen, Edgewood and Joppatowne, and also follows the Route 24 corridor north through part of Abingdon and into Bel Air. The latter areas were added, while western Cecil County, which had been in 34, was flip-flopped into District 35.
There are about 34,849 registered Democrats and 26,139 registered Republicans in the district, according to the Harford County Board of Elections, with another 16,107 independent or minor party voters.
James says she is focused on running her own campaign, while Helton says James accuses him of failing to fund schools and favoring special breaks for developers.
"I have never built a house in my life. I just do commercial revitalization, create jobs and increase the tax base," Helton, 75, said. He has been involved with a number of such projects, primarily in the Aberdeen area where he says he lives.
(Helton's official place of residency, however, continues to be called into question, as several political foes claim he actually lives in Darlington. Helton has challenged those claims in court and, most recently, was allowed by elections officials to file to run in District 34.)
About James, Helton said: "It's obvious that she did a poll and panicked and started going very negative. We are sticking to factual stuff. We are not going to respond to things she is just pulling out of the air. We are also hoping people are smart enough to know you cannot just pull things out [of the air]."
James, 54, said she has "a lot of information from going door-to-door that we are doing really well among the voters."
After a press conference Monday for the Havre de Grace Opera House Foundation, where state grants were announced that James has taken credit for securing, James said she recently walked through all of the 60 precincts in the district.
"We are in a very positive place," she said, noting she is focusing on education and health care reform, which she said is doing much better after its troubled rollout.
"I feel very good about the fact that that is getting better, the [information technology] is working out," James said.
"I think people know who I am, they know I am a good person," she added.
The 34th District is divided into two subdistricts for House of Delegates seats, two in 34A covering the Route 40 area and one in 34B, covering Bel Air and Abingdon.
Four Democrats and three Republicans are running for the 34A seats, one of which is open because of James' Senate candidacy.
Republican Del. Glen Glass, an Aberdeen resident, is running for re-election. Two other Republicans are entered in the primary, Beth Boyson and Mike Blizzard, both of Havre de Grace.
The Democrats running in 34A include County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, of Havre de Grace; Steve Johnson, an Aberdeen resident and pharmacy owner, who is supported by Helton and vice-versa; Maria Terry, of Havre de Grace, a Realtor and first-time candidate; Pat Murray, a Belcamp resident and first-time candidate; and Marla Posey-Moss of Aberdeen, a teacher who made it to the general election in 2014, but finished behind Glass and James.
The District 34B delegate race has attracted two Democrats in the primary, Cassandra Beverley, a lawyer from Abingdon, who was elected to a seat on the Harford County Board of Education in 2010, and Jeff Dinger, a Bel Air resident.
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The winner of the Democratic primary will face three-term Republican Del. Susan McComas, a lawyer who lives in Bel Air. She does not have a primary opponent.