County Executive Janet S. Owens has nearly three years left on her final term, but some of the people interested in replacing her have already started raising money, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.
They are the first indications of what it may cost to win the 2006 race.
"This may in fact be a very high-priced election," said former Del. Phillip D. Bissett, a Republican who lost to Owens in 2002.
The reports also show that Owens hasn't stopped fund raising, hinting at a run for statewide or other office.
No one has formally announced a candidacy to succeed Owens, but Democratic Sheriff George F. Johnson IV is one of several likely hopefuls -- and he appears to be the early fund-raising leader.
Information from his report was not available yesterday, but he said he had raised about $146,000 over the past year and had a balance of about $93,000 in his account.
"If you're considering that race ... you have to have the money to run that race," Johnson said.
The information about Owens' and other accounts is contained in the annual campaign reports due yesterday with the state Board of Elections. That was the deadline for politicians with campaign accounts to file reports on activity between Jan. 9 of last year and last Wednesday.
Owens raised about $600,000 for her 2002 re-election campaign. Johnson said it requires much more than a year of preparation to jump into the contest for executive.
"That particular race requires a four-year approach," he said.
Republican Del. John R. Leopold of Pasadena has moved toward a run for county executive by lending nearly $200,000 to his campaign account, records show.
His report shows that he raised nearly $3,000 and received a $197,000 loan. Leopold said the loan is his personal money. His unofficial campaign has a cash balance of $217,000.
"There's no such thing as early in politics, only late," said Leopold, who has recently been sign-toting on county roads and knocking on doors. "It's a big county. It takes time to build effective organization."
In 2002, Bissett's campaign raised one-sixth as much as Owens, and he lost by about 6,000 votes out of 172,000 cast. His new report shows he has raised more than $15,000 over the past year and spent more than $11,000.
He reported a cash balance of about $5,200 in his account.
The Mayo resident didn't raise any money during the same period in advance of the 2002 election, according to his reports.
"The only thing that prevented us succeeding ... was money," said Bissett, now a state employee. "We are going to eliminate that concern this cycle."
Owens, a Millersville Democrat, raised about $134,000 over the last year, her report states. She spent about half that amount. Nearly all her money came from a March 11 fund-raiser.
Term limits will force her from office after the 2006 election.