If politics were sports, the political forum sponsored by the First District Democratic Club in Elkridge Thursday night would have been an intrasquad game.
The goal for the 16 candidates seeking five seats in the General Assembly this fall is to win the club's endorsement before the party primary in September.
Candidates covet club endorsements because with them comes the promise that club members will appear at the polls this fall to demonstrate support for club favorites. That support is crucial, local candidates believe, because so few voters will see or hear them.
Thursday, for example, only a handful of people in the crowd of about 40 were not candidates, relatives of candidates or members of the candidates' entourages.
Those with most to gain from the club's endorsements are the state Senate and House of Delegates candidates in District 12, which is split between Howard and Baltimore counties. There are 8,054 registered voters, including 3,703 Democrats, in the seven precincts within the Elkridge club's boundaries.
No one in the fiercely contested District 12 contests shunned the forum, despite what they expected would be a small turnout.
Incumbent Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, for example, brought a group of supporters clad in yellow T-shirts displaying her campaign logo. Ms. Murphy entered the race Monday after several months of flirting with the possibility of running for Baltimore County executive.
The newly redrawn district was limited to Baltimore County four years ago. This is Ms. Murphy's first foray into Howard County.
"You can rest assured that I will represent the entire district," said Ms. Murphy, who promised "a long, lasting, enduring partnership" with the voters of Howard County. She said she is anti-crime, pro-education and "pro-reasonable, managed growth."
Her only competition from Howard County is former state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who reminded club members that he grew up in the county and has been doing business here for 25 years.
Mr. Kasemeyer is running on a platform he calls "family security." He wants to implement short- and long-term strategies to deal with crime and improve the job market.
Baltimore County developer Thomas E. Booth is the candidate who could be hurt most by Ms. Murphy's entry into the race, because he was wooing many of her supporters.
Mr. Booth described himself as a "conservative business leader," saying his ability to "create and live within a budget" is a skill needed in Annapolis.
The fourth Senate candidate in District 12, Frances Kathleen Ingram, said she favors silent prayer in schools, more prisons and making English the official language.
"I'm running my campaign on personal values," she said. "Personal values don't change."
Three of the five House candidates running in District 13A, -- Pearline Atkinson-Stewart, Wanda Hurt and Frank S. Turner -- attended the forum, as did Del. Virginia M. Thomas, one of the two candidates for Senate in District 13.
District 13A is centered in eastern Columbia and includes Clarksville in the west and Savage and North Laurel in the south. District 13 covers the same area and extends into Montgomery County.
The candidates from those districts came to the forum even though only one of their precincts is within the club's boundaries. But that precinct is one of the largest in the county, with 1,599 registered voters, 715 of them Democrats.
Ms. Thomas, who is running for the Senate after three terms in the House, called for a return to "the good old days" when Democrats controlled the county's General Assembly delegation. "Frankly, we're not respected in Annapolis" anymore, she said.
Others forum speakers were 12A House candidates Paul C. Bird, James E. Malone Jr., House Majority Leader Kenneth H. Masters, C. Richard Mencken and Del. Louis P. Morsberger; and 12B House candidates M. Elizabeth Bobo, Ethel B. Hill and Rosemary E. S. Mortimer.
County executive candidate Sue-Ellen Hantman also spoke.