The two Baltimore County attorneys seeking the Republican nomination for state attorney general - Jeffrey N. Pritzker of Phoenix and Edwin MacVaugh of Ruxton - face an uphill battle in their bid to unseat five-term incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr.
Even some within the state Republican Party concede that unseating Curran won't be easy. Neither prospective challenger has held elected office. Curran, who has been in office since 1987, faces no Democratic opposition in the Sept. 10 primary. And Maryland voters have not elected a Republican attorney general since 1919.
Given the attention being paid to the governor's race this year, "there is no limelight left," said Del. Donald E. Murphy of Catonsville, who is running for chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee.
Pritzker and MacVaugh acknowledge that defeating Curran will be a challenge but say they are confident they can do it.
Pritzker, 53, said Curran has "mismanaged" the office. "The office has become a political office instead of an office for protecting citizens," he said.
He noted Curran's hiring of the law firm of Peter G. Angelos to handle the state's litigation against tobacco companies instead of having his office do it. Maryland is expected to receive $4 billion over 25 years under the national tobacco settlement, but Angelos, who originally sought to collect $1 billion of that money as his fee, battled with Curran and Gov. Parris N. Glendening for three years before settling for a fee of $150 million.
"I think it's outrageous that $150 million of taxpayers' money went to a high-profile law firm instead of paying for education and other expenses in the state," Pritzker said.
He also questioned why the attorney general's office did not challenge Glendening's redistricting plan, which was ultimately replaced by a plan drawn by Maryland's highest court. "The plan was blatantly illegal, and the attorney general did nothing," he said.
Curran said that if his office had handled the tobacco case, it would have cost the state $7 million to $10 million in outside court costs at a time when his office's annual budget was about $15 million.
"To have asked the legislature in one year to increase our budget by that amount was not going to happen," Curran said. Hiring an outside firm "made sense from every standpoint - fiscal and management of personnel - and it's what every other attorney's general office involved did."
About redistricting, he said, "We're the lawyers for the state, and we consistently gave the redistricting committee our best advice."
Pritzker, the managing partner of a 10-lawyer firm in Towson who specializes in corporate and business law, grew up in the Pimlico area and in Baltimore County. He is an honors graduate of the University of Maryland law school.
MacVaugh, 46, is a Montana native who came to Maryland in 1973 while on duty in the Navy. An engineer, he graduated from the University of Baltimore's law school in 1989 and is a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve. He also practices law in Towson.
MacVaugh ran for the House of Delegates in the Towson area in 1994 and lost in the Republican primary to Del. James M. Kelly. He was a finalist to replace Kelly this winter after the delegate took a job in the Bush administration.
MacVaugh, a criminal defense attorney, said Curran has been in office too long. He also disagrees with Curran's long-standing support for strict gun control, which MacVaugh calls "far too liberal."
"I would like to undo as much as I can that he's done regarding gun laws," said MacVaugh. "He's giving away basic constitutional rights - my rights and my kids' rights - and I can't handle that."
Curran said his interest in gun ownership concerns what he called "the horrific number of handgun murders ... that happen in the streets of urban communities. This has nothing to do with people who enjoy target practice or hunting," he said. "Those are perfectly legitimate sports."
Both GOP candidates have been crisscrossing the state to become better known to voters.
MacVaugh has erected 33 billboards in Montgomery, Harford, Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. He estimates he will spend $25,000 of his own money on the primary race.
Pritzker has hired longtime GOP consultant Carol L. Hirschburg to work on his campaign and said his strategy is to focus on direct mail to Republican voters. He estimates he will spend between $50,000 and $100,000 on his campaign through the primary.
"People are sick and tired of what's been happening in this state," Pritzker said. "If ever there was a time for a Republican to be elected ... it's going to be this year."