When Congressmen Wayne Gilchrest and Tom McMillen face off tonight in a debate at Anne Arundel Community College, Severna Park residents will learn more about the candidates than their names. At least that's the hope of the sponsors.
For in this segment of the redesigned 1st District, voters seem as ill-informed about the candidates for the House of Representatives as they are uncertain who they'll choose. Of dozens interviewed in local shopping centers this week, most said they didn't know enough about the race to have an opinion.
"I don't know much about the two, except that McMillen used to play basketball," said Frances Oliver, 53. "I'll probably read up before I vote," she said.
"McMillen, he's tall," said another woman, adding that was all she knew about either candidate, despite the fact that both candidates are incumbents, Mr. McMillen a Democrat from the former 4th District and Mr. Gilchrest a Republican from the former 1st District.
Geoff Lewis, 23, said he's heard the names, but that he doesn't know much about them.
Mr. Lewis, a registered Republican, said he probably will vote with his party.
The debate, scheduled at 8 p.m. in the Pascal Center, should help those who are uncertain make up their minds, said leaders of the sponsoring organizations -- the Greater Severna Park Council, the Lower Broadneck Federation and the Anne Arundel Trade Council.
Most of those in Severna Park who already have made up their minds say they're voting for Mr. Gilchrest.
"We feel like Tom McMillen has ignored a lot of issues that are important to us here," said Cindy McCoy, 38, a three-year resident of the area. "And we don't like the way he's spending money."
Steve Graves, a 35-year-old real estate salesman, said he thinks Mr. Gilchrest's ads depicting Mr. McMillen as an elitist have hurt the Democratic candidate.
"This 'A little more sushi, Mr. McMillen' stuff makes an impact," Mr. Graves said. "People are becoming cognizant of what congressmen are spending, and I don't think McMillen is faring too well."
The two candidates are battling for the votes of a historically Republican enclave.
"When Tom McMillen was elected initially, Severna Park voted for Bobby Neall," pointed out Pat Troy, Greater Severna Park Council president, who wouldn't say which candidate she favors.
While the Democratic Party holds a 58 percent majority in voter registration in the new 1st District, the bulk of registered voters in Severna Park is Republican, county voting records show.
Whatever their political affiliations, Severna Park residents appear unified in their concerns over slowing development in their area and controlling the foundering national economy by cutting government spending.
"We've got to get the growth under control," said Kathleen Treacy.
"I hate to see all the trees being torn down," she said. "We've lived here 24 years, and I'm tired of being told there's nothing we can do about it."
Republican state Sen. John A. Cade said he doesn't think the is sues are any different in Severna Park than elsewhere.
"Obviously, the economy is foremost in people's minds, and the national deficit," he said.
"People are looking for answers in these areas, and I don't think we've heard too much."