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As primary election day nears in Harford, GOP leaders keep their distance from backing a presidential candidate

More than 12,000 Harford County residents, almost 9 percent of those eligiible, voted early for the primary election which comes up Tuesday, according to state elections officials.
More than 12,000 Harford County residents, almost 9 percent of those eligiible, voted early for the primary election which comes up Tuesday, according to state elections officials. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Headlining the primary election ballots in Harford County and the rest of Maryland Tuesday are what have so far been hotly-contested national battles for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations.

So it will be that local GOP voters can pick among Ted Cruz, John Kasich or Donald Trump and Democrats between Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

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And, anyone who doesn't like those choices will still have the option of voting for one of the also-rans in their respective parties, who dropped out of the race, but whose names still clutter the ballot.

GOP and Democratic voters also get to pick among scores of candidates who want to be delegates to this summer's national nominating conventions. Some are listed as being affiliated with a particular presidential candidate, including those who have dropped out of the race. Many others are not affiliated.

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For the first time in recent memory Maryland's Presidential Primary is relevant to choosing the presidential candidates.

The convention delegates are slated by congressional district, and a number of prominent Harford County politicians are on the Republican ballots running for delegate or alternate. Most are unaffiliated with a candidate. Voters can select three of each, delegate and alternate. Democrats select male and female delegates separately.

Republicans have a growing registration advantage in Harford – 10,000 more residents are registered with the GOP than with the Democrats – and GOP candidates have won by even bigger margins in recent local, state and national elections. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took almost 77 percent of the Harford vote in 2014.

While all of the major candidates for president have made campaign appearances in Maryland this month, none have made public stops in Harford.

Locally, the Republican presidential race has left even the most died-in-the-wool Harford GOP politician more than a little squeamish when it comes to backing a particular candidate.

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All seven members of the Harford County Council are Republicans, and several indicated Thursday they are disappointed by the race in general.

Despite four polling places being open, few Harford County residents were taking advantage of early voting so far. Sunday, the turnout had dropped dramatically.

"I am tired of all the negativity. There is no focus on the issues; they just take advantage of people's anger," Councilman Curtis Beulah said of the battle for the nomination, where front-runner Trump is coming off a major victory in his home state of New York on Tuesday.

"I just don't like the direction in which we are going," Beulah said. "We need to be coming together, working together to find solutions to the problems."

"I would like to see more debates on the issues, more substance and less venom," he said.

Councilman Mike Perrone said he is similarly dissatisfied.

"I am not impressed by any candidate," he said.

Council President Richard Slutzky did not want to comment on his personal preferences, but said the GOP race has "been extremely unusual and interesting."

When registration books for the primary closed last month, Harford had 72,983 Republicans and 62,968 Democrats registered. People have been allowed to register at the polls for the first time in state history, and a handful of new registrations in Harford were taken during the eight days of early voting that began April 21 and ended Thursday.

During early voting, 12,206 people cast ballots in Harford, 8.93 percent of the 136,684 county residents eligible to vote in the primary, according to the Maryland Board of Elections. Thursday marked the highest turnout of the eight days, with 2,502 people voting.

Statewide, 257,874 people voted early, about 7.5 percent of the 3,432,720 eligible.

Eight days of voting for the April 26 primary election began Thursday in Harford County and across Maryland, and it comes with new importance this year.

At the McFaul Activity Center in Bel Air Wednesday night, the handful of people casting votes near closing time were outnumbered by election judges. The voting, using the new hand-marked paper ballots, which are then electronically tabulated, appeared to be going smoothly.

On primary day Tuesday, the county's 90 polling stations will be open from 7 a.m to 8 p.m.

Also on Tuesday's ballot will be primary contests for U.S. Senate and congressional seat nominations.

There are crowded fields in both parties, where candidates are hoping to succeed Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who is stepping down at the end of her term after 30 years in the Senate.

The main Democratic contenders are Congresswoman Donna Edwards, of Prince George's County, and Congressman Chris Van Hollen, of Montgomery County.

On the Republican side, 14 candidates are on the primary ballot, among them Del. Kathy Szeliga, who represents western Harford in Annapolis.

In the First Congressional District, covering all of Cecil County and northern and central Harford County, incumbent Republican Congressman Andy Harris has three challengers, including former Cecil County state delegate Michael Smigiel.

In the Second Congressional District, covering southern Harford County, and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, incumbent Democratic Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger does not have primary opposition. There is a five-way Republican contest to see who will oppose Ruppersberger in November that includes western Harford state Del. Pat McDonough.

The only local office on the ballot in Harford County Tuesday is Judge of the Circuit Court, where Judge Kevin Mahoney, who was appointed to the bench in December by Hogan, is seeking a full 15-year term. Mahoney has no opposition; his name appears on both the Republican and Democratic ballots.

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