Barack Obama won Howard County's Democratic presidential primary by a solid 9,000 votes and 19 percentage points over Hillary Clinton, and local party leaders don't believe unity will be a problem as they look toward November's general election.
Party chairman Michael C.A. McPherson is busy advertising a central Maryland Democratic unity rally July 12 at Banneker Park and Museum in Oella, just across the Patapsco River from Ellicott City. And he's recruiting volunteers for a neighborhood effort to produce more voters on Election Day.
Attending a campaign picnic for County Executive Ken Ulman at the Circle D Farm in Glenwood last week, McPherson said the challenge for Democrats is maintaining their enthusiasm now that the Obama-Clinton contest has ended.
"It's a rah-rah kind of thing," he said about the rally. "We're trying to keep people fired up because there's so much time between now and the election."
Unity should not be a problem, he said.
"I hope people are enough of a Democrat to realize that what matters is putting a Democrat in the White House," he said.
While Democrats try to paint John McCain's policies as nearly identical to those of President Bush, county Republicans are calling Obama a Jimmy Carter clone who is too far left of center to win. They say the choice of a Democratic nominee may now make their task easier.
"People are seeing the stark differences between the two," said GOP party chairwoman Joan Becker. "It's making our job easier. There are a lot of Hillary supporters supporting McCain - especially the women."
Democratic stalwarts at the event expressed confidence that the party faithful will come together in support of the nominee.
"I don't remember an election when my candidate in a primary won - get over it," said Mary Jo Neville, a Dayton resident, Obama backer and one of those once-sought-after superdelegates to the national convention.
Ulman, who was chosen by party officials to be a convention delegate, said he too feels Howard County Democrats will have no trouble unifying behind Obama.
"I've talked to a few people [Clinton backers] who are clearly still disappointed, but now there's no choice. It takes time," he said. Ulman also supported Obama during the primary.
County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a west Columbia Democrat who supported Clinton, said she was disappointed, but feels that's not paramount.
"I can stand here and tell you I am not interested in another Republican president," she said.
Del. Shane Pendergrass, another Clinton supporter, did not attend the picnic, but said later that she agrees with Sigaty.
"I keep my eye on the prize," she said. "Just because you don't get your first choice doesn't mean you're not happy with your second."
Congressman John Sarbanes, a Democrat who represents part of eastern Howard County, addressed the crowd of about 150 people eating hamburgers, baked beans and potato chips in the afternoon heat.
"This is the most exciting election season in my lifetime," he told the crowd. "Pick two or three issues you can talk about that separate Obama and the Democrats from McCain and the Republicans. At the end of the day, this election is not going to be determined by the passion, but by the issues."
If Democrats are confronted by questions about Obama's lack of experience, Sarbanes suggested that a discussion of issues like the war in Iraq, gas prices, inflation and unemployment could make the difference.
"If ever you were going to take a chance on a candidate, this is the time, because look at the issues," he said. "That will seal the deal."
Becker, of course, sees that argument from the opposite perspective.
"Obama is another Carter. I don't think people want to go back to the Carter days," she said. "Obama is about government programs and dependence on government. Europe is thrilled to death [about Obama's victory] because they're all socialist countries."
Picnic for poll judges
The first county election board picnic to honor the most efficient poll judges in the February primary didn't draw as many of the 35 judges invited as board administrator Betty Nordaas had hoped, but she's planning a repeat after the November 2010 election.
"It was pretty nice," said Nordaas, though only 11 of the 35 invited judges showed for the Centennial Park event June 6. She hopes to have a similar event once each four-year election cycle as another way to encourage people to become one of the more than 1,100 judges required to staff the county's 113 polling places.