Despite talk of abandonment by some leaders of his party on the national level, the presidential candidacy of Republican Party nominee Donald J. Trump, business mogul and reality television star, has energized Republican voters in Harford County in a manner not seen in recent elections, according to one local GOP leader.
"I have never seen a candidate that has brought out more people that have never been involved in politics before," Jeff McBride, chairman of the Republican Central Committee of Harford County, said Wednesday.
Republicans hold a growing registration advantage and control every county office in Harford and all but one of its 10 seats in the Maryland General Assembly. And, while many Harford elected officials say they are supporting Trump, others are choosing their words about their party's nominee carefully, or sidestepping the question altogether.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman says he has taken a neutral stance on the presidential race, explaining in an emailed statement that "neither of the two viable candidates meets my personal threshold for president."
"I've always equated leadership with some degree of grace and civility, and my position has not changed," Glassman said. "With that being said, I am not planning to weigh in any further during this divisive national election. My focus is on Harford County and the progress we are making for our citizens."
A strong Trump endorsement, conversely, comes from Harford Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler, another local elected Republican who is the county's chief law enforcement officer.
"For me, this election comes down to where the candidates stand on the issues," Gahler said via email. "As Sheriff of Harford County, I am very concerned about the direction our country has taken over the past eight years. That said, Donald Trump is the candidate most closely aligned with my concerns as a citizen, and as sheriff."
"On the issues that impact public safety, Mr. Trump's pledge to restore law and order and the respect he has shown for our law enforcement officers are in line with my priorities as sheriff," Gahler said.
"Our country's immigration policies are very important to Harford County," he continued. "We need to be aware that much of the heroin infiltrating our streets is being brought from outside of this country. Tightening of our borders will help stem the flow of heroin into our community, and Mr. Trump has made this an important issue in his campaign."
Most national polls show Trump trailing Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a former secretary of state and first lady, with barely two weeks before Election Day on Nov. 8. Voters in Harford and elsewhere in Maryland can begin casting early ballots Thursday, Oct. 27, through Thursday, Nov. 3.
Long-time GOP support
Harford County has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since the 1964, when Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP's nominee, was trounced by incumbent President Lyndon Johnson in one of the biggest presidential landslide victories of all time. Some pundits have suggested Trump could be leading the party to a Goldwater-like debacle.
County Council President Richard Slutzky says Clinton and Trump are "probably two of the worst choices" for president in American history.
"Of the two terrible choices that the American republic is presented with, Donald Trump is the choice that I'll have to make," added Slutzky, who is well-educated in U.S. history.
He sees Trump as the best option for reversing the "socialist ideology" of the Obama administration.
"My only hope is that Trump might be smart enough to surround himself with bright people who would actually know how to get some of these things done," Slutzky said.
County Councilman Jim McMahan, who represents Bel Air and the surrounding areas, said "I'm not for Clinton" when asked Tuesday evening if he supports Trump.
The other five council members, who like Slutzky and McMahan are Republicans, did not respond to requests for their views on the presidential election.
Harford Republican state legislators are cautiously supporting Trump, saying he is the only alternative to what they believe would be a disastrous Hillary Clinton presidency.
"While I think [Trump] has his flaws, he's the closest to what I think our candidate should be standing for," State Sen. Wayne Norman, who represents northern of Harford County and western Cecil County in Annapolis, said. "And I think he would admit that he has flaws, where the other candidate won't admit it."
Norman was one of the first elected Harford Republicans to come out in support of Larry Hogan when Hogan successfully ran for governor in 2014.
Gov. Hogan has taken a walk on the presidential election, refusing to endorse Trump while stumping for Republican congressional candidates, including Harford Del. Kathy Szeliga in her bid for a U.S. Senate seat against Democrat Chris VanHollen, a congressman from Montgomery County. (Szeliga could not be reached for her views about the GOP presidential nominee.)
State Sen. Bob Cassilly, who represents central Harford County and much of the Route 40 area, said he does not agree with everything Trump has said, but he still supports Trump over Clinton.
"We have two choices, and given the two choices we have, I certainly support Donald Trump," Cassilly said.
Cassilly, said a Clinton presidency "would be a disaster."
"It would be the worst thing that could happen to our country," Cassilly said. "She's dishonest, and she's not a good leader."
"I, like many people, have reservations about the way that he carries himself occasionally, but I think if he became president he would conduct himself presidentially," State Sen. J.B. Jennings, who represents western Harford County and eastern Baltimore County, said of Trump.
"His views are what I think we need in this country at this point," Jennings continued. "It's not about being Republican or Democrat, it's about who do I agree with that's going to be in the Oval Office."
Supreme Court choices
Jennings said he agrees with Trump on matters such as immigration enforcement, strengthening the military and, "most importantly," future nominees to the Supreme Court, which already has one vacancy with the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia in February.
"It's very important that we have a Republican in the White House that's going to make the choices for the next Supreme Court justices," agreed Del. Rick Impallaria, who represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore County and is the head of Harford's delegation in the House of Delegates.
"She would appoint Supreme Court justices who would destroy this country for the next half century with their decisions," Harford Del. Pat McDonough said of Clinton.
McDonough, who is the Republican candidate for the Second District congressional seat against incumbent Democrat Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, said he is not crazy about Trump's personality, but Clinton "absolutely throws fear in my heart."
Gahler also mentioned the next president's Supreme Court appointments.
"Again, Mr. Trump's stance on the law and order and his support for the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution make him the candidate who best reflects the convictions on these issues," the sheriff said.
Trump's business career also appeals to Republican voters and local leaders, the Harford legislators say.
"It's time that we have a president who is not a lifelong politician and is a businessman and has negotiated deals based on profits and losses," Impallaria, a small business owner, said.
Trump had a convincing win in Harford in the mid-April primary election. Amid low turnout and a crowded 11-candidate field, he took 61 percent of the Harford GOP vote, according to the Maryland Board of Elections website.
"He is the reason they're getting involved," McBride said of Trump, who has branded himself as a Washington outsider who will restore America's greatness.
Republican voters McBride has spoken with are also concerned about Clinton becoming president.
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"It's kind of a perfect storm, and it's pulling a lot of people out," McBride said.
He said people who have either never volunteered during an election before, or have not volunteered for many years, are expressing interest in helping the party in Harford County.
"It's because he's an outsider, not a politician," McBride said of Trump. "I think he says what's on his mind, whether it gets him in trouble or not, and I think a lot of people like that."
Final registration figures for the general election won't be available until next week; however, as of Oct. 12, 185,396 Harford residents were registered to vote, including 79,329 Republicans, 67,930 Democrats, 35,351 unaffiliated and 2,786 affiliated with minor parties, according to the Harford Board of Elections.
Clinton and Trump have been unpopular among much of the American electorate, which has meant greater visibility for third-party candidates such as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, Norman noted.
"This is the most troublesome election I've ever seen," said the state senator, who wouldn't be surprised if Johnson gets 10 percent of the national vote.
Still, he added: "As a conservative Republican, I'm going to support my party's candidate."