For months, Democratic incumbent Frank R. Weathersbee and his Republican challenger, John R. Greiber, have been locked in a campaign of insults and name-calling played out in an avalanche of press releases in their race for state's attorney.
Mr. Greiber has criticized Mr. Weathersbee for having a "bogus conviction rate."
Mr. Weathersbee has said that Mr. Greiber has the "intelligence of Forrest Gump and the conscience of Hannibal Lechter" and has issued news releases accusing Mr. Greiber of violating campaign laws.
Mr. Greiber has issued news releases titled "Adult Crime and the bTC State's Attorney," "The Smoking Gun, Juvenile Arrests, Juvenile Prosecutions," and "The Smoking Gun II." They are peppered with theatrical references and statistics that he says show Mr. Weathersbee has been asleep on the job.
"I have read the most recent press releases from Mr. Greiber, which appear on a weekly basis whether he has something worthwhile to say or not," Mr. Weathersbee responded in a release issued Tuesday. "Obviously, he is becoming desperate, as his ranting is more incoherent, irrelevant and inaccurate."
But is anyone listening anymore?
"It's like the little boy who cried wolf," said Del. John G. Gary, the Republican candidate for county executive. "If you do it too much, no one pays attention."
Mr. Greiber has "tried so hard to win over the press that just the opposite has happened. He has made a pest of himself, and they don't even want to take his phone calls anymore," Mr. Gary said.
It's like the "gunfight at the OK Corral," said Theodore J. Sophocleus, the Democratic candidate for county executive. "It's become a personal battleground."
The ferocity of the battle stems at least in part from both candidates' lack of political sensibilities, their allies say.
"John is not politically astute," Mr. Gary said of Mr. Greiber. "He is a lawyer. Lawyers generally ask the questions. They are not used to fielding questions. They are not getting their messages across clearly."
"The worst thing about Frank is that he is not political," Sen. Michael J. Wagner, D-Glen Burnie, said of Mr. Weathersbee. "He is a trained, professional prosecutor. He is not comfortable campaigning. He is sort of shy."
Mr. Greiber, who bills himself as a constitutional lawyer, is perhaps best known for representing the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association in suits against the county. He lost an attempt to overturn a 1989 pension law that increased benefits for elected and appointed officials, but he won a suit to get on the ballot in 1990 a question concerning a property tax ceiling.
He also represented a bipartisan coalition in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the congressional redistricting of Anne Arundel County.
Another client was a Laurel woman who accused a former county police officer of raping her four years ago in his patrol car. She won a $1.05 million judgment against the county.
Scoffs at criminal law
Mr. Greiber has scoffed at criminal law, calling it "not rocket science," a remark that prosecutors have ridiculed and allies have defended.
"The field of criminal law is specific and complex," said Joseph I. Cassilly, the Republican state's attorney of Harford County. "Who are the best criminal defense attorneys? It's not somebody who does real estate cases all week and then once in a while does a drunk driving case."
But Timothy Murnane, a former public defender who ran against Mr. Weathersbee four years ago, said prosecution is "the simplest type of lawyering out there."
And Robert Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel County Taxpayers Association, said Mr. Greiber has taken so much heat because local Democrats fear him.
"They know if John gets in there all these rocks are going to be overturned, so they are doing everything they can to keep Weathersbee there," Mr. Schaefer said.
Mr. Greiber argued that his lack of experience in criminal law is no more important than Mr. Weathersbee's lack of experience in other legal specialties.
"I've done some very interesting things in my career," he said, "things that I wonder if Frank could do. The question is not whether I can do his job; the question is could Frank do what I do?"
That is not the issue when you are running for state's attorney, Mr. Weathersbee countered. He pointed to the 20 years he has spent as a prosecutor and to the programs he and others in the state's attorney's office have implemented.
There is a Victims' and Witness Assistance Unit, an Assets Forfeiture Unit that confiscates property from drug dealers and an initiative to reduce substantially the number of jury trials that are taken from District Court to Circuit Court each year.
"It is important to note that the job of a prosecutor is a day-in and day-out job," Mr. Weathersbee said. "And what the public sees in the newspaper or on television is only a small part of what prosecutions are all about."
L He conceded that he has not made that point clear to voters.