Anne Arundel voters will chose today between a Linthicum druggist and a Millersville draper to succeed Republican Robert R. Neall, a former grocer, as county executive.
Dels. Theodore J. Sophocleus, a Democrat, and John G. Gary, a Republican, have each touted his own business and legislative experience as best qualifying him to manage the county's $711 million budget and its services, including public education, police and fire protection, libraries and trash disposal.
"The key message for me is, you need a strong manager used to dealing with big numbers," said Mr. Sophocleus, former president of a Corpus Christi, Texas, chain of pharmacies and former councilman.
"I think my message was, I would try to continue the fiscally conservative administration that Bobby Neall had," said Mr. Gary, who like Mr. Neall served on the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee.
Races for governor and for state Sen. Michael J. Wagner's seat in District 32, which includes Glen Burnie, should draw partisans to the voting booth, Mr. Sophocleus said. "We've got an opportunity for a good turnout," he said.
Likewise, Mr. Gary said he expects the gubernatorial race and County Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks' challenge of Mr. Wagner to draw out GOP voters in North County, an area traditionally considered a Democratic stronghold.
"The larger the Republican turnout, the smaller crossover we need from the Democrats," Mr. Gary said.
Both executive candidates have complained about the attacking nature of the ads used by his opponent.
"I wish it had been a little cleaner," said Mr. Sophocleus, who narrowly lost to Mr. Neall in 1990. "It got away from the issues a bit, but . . . when someone fires at you, you have to fire back."
"I think the Neall-Sophocleus race was uglier," Mr. Gary said, referring to the 1990 election. "They didn't have the negative literature Ted and I have used but . . . they couldn't stand to be next to each other. Ted and I agreed early on that we would remain civil."
Mr. Gary, who trailed early in polls but has pulled close as Election Day neared, said he had to use negative ads to "contrast" himself from the Democrat.
Polls showed that Mr. Sophocleus was vulnerable on a 1989 pension vote and his tenure on the council during the administration of O. James Lighthizer, Mr. Gary said.
Based on the poll, he has hammered at Mr. Sophocleus in newspaper ads, radio commercials and mailers. "I would have liked to have spent a little more time talking about how I would run the county," Mr. Gary said. "It forced me to go a little more negative than I would have liked to."
Voters also will decide whether to give the GOP its first majority on the seven-member County Council in 30 years.
Three key contests are for seats vacated as a result of a two-term limit imposed by voters in 1992 referendum. In those races, voters will chose between:
* Republican Bert L. Rice and Democrat Bill D. Burlison in District 4, which includes Odenton.
* Democrat Melinda Hamilton and Republican William Mulford II in District 6, which includes Annapolis.
* Republican John J. Klocko III and Democrat Dorothy Dixon Chaney in District 7, which includes Crofton and Davidsonville.
Tonight, Mr. Sophocleus and the Democrats will gather at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie and Mr. Gary and the Republicans will be at the Annapolis Holiday Inn in Parole to await election results.
But not Mr. Neall. He said yesterday that he will be in his fourth-floor office at the Arundel Center, eating popcorn and watching the returns on a new color television. Mr. Neall said he hopes to buy the television after voting about 7:30 a.m. at South River High School.
"The last television I bought was just before the 1976 presidential elections, and it just expired," said Mr. Neall, who served 12 years in the House of Delegates before winning the executive seat in 1990.
"This is going to be a little strange for me because it'll be the first time in 20 years I won't be on the ballot," he said. "So it'll be unusual -- a good unusual, not a bad unusual."