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Challenger outpaces Craig in executive race financing

Ann C. Helton, who is expected to announce next month her candidacy for Harford County's top post, has raised more than twice as much money as County Executive David R. Craig as the campaign season gears up, according to figures reported to the state board of elections.

Helton, a Democrat from Darlington, reported contributions of $106,700 in the past year, reassuring party leaders who are counting on her fundraising prowess to hold off a third consecutive Republican administration.

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"She wanted to find out if she had enough support, and she does," said her campaign spokesman, George F. Harrison. "The voters like what she has to say and are not happy about how things are going in Harford County."

Craig supporters said the county executive, who replaced James M. Harkins in July, has held true to an executive order halting any contributions to his political campaign committee until the county completes a comprehensive rezoning. The process is expected to wrap up in February.

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Before being sworn in, Craig, who was already contemplating a run at the office, had received $5,000 in contributions plus $41,200 in ticket sales, mostly from a May event, he said. The two candidates' cash on hand is actually much closer -- Helton has $87,000 to Craig's $61,000.

"It's never been about money in Harford County," Craig said. "I'm in office, I'm doing a good job, and the voters know that. They'll have to prove they can do a better job.

"I know they can't prove they can do a better job," he added.

Still, the sight of six figures with the election 11 months away has Democrats tickled. Helton has already raised more than 2002 Democratic candidate Paul Gilbert, and party supporters believe she's positioning the beleaguered party for a fight in the heavily Republican-voting county.

Helton has yet to formally declare her candidacy as she wraps up work as president of the Harford Land Trust, but Harrison expects a February announcement.

Figures showed Helton has spent $18,000 for the polling and advertising services of The Democracy Group, an Annapolis-based political consulting firm. The group has also received money from Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Del. Karen S. Montgomery, a Montgomery County Democrat.

Many Republican leaders immediately scoffed at Helton's contribution total, saying it hadn't been raised through donors but rather transferred from her wealthy husband, Arthur H. Helton. He is a former state senator who has launched several failed bids for county positions in recent years.

But according to the state elections database, the total includes no contributions from Helton's husband, but rather from individuals and businesses.

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"She hasn't even announced [her candidacy] and has been able to raise over $100,000," Harrison said.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com


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