Baltimore County Democrat Jim Brochin calls himself the most independent member of the Maryland Senate. That kind of talk hasn't won him too many friends among party leaders.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has endorsed his opponent. So has Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. But Brochin — who opposed O'Malley on tax increases and Kamenetz on development decisions — says he wears their disapproval as a "badge of honor."
"My job isn't to do what Martin O'Malley tells me to do," says Brochin, who represents a northern Baltimore County district that now mixes sizable portions of Republicans and Democrats. "My job isn't to do what Kevin Kamenetz tells me to. My job is to do what my constituents want me to do."
Brochin's primary challenger, Connie DeJuliis, has a different take on the centrist incumbent. She says he's ineffective, not courageous.
"Being a legislator is more than just running to Annapolis, saying 'No,' and then saying, 'I'm an independent,'" DeJuliis says.
Brochin, 50, a three-term legislator who's made a name for himself by beating Republicans in high-energy campaigns, is facing the first primary challenge of his political career. DeJuliis, a former state delegate and wife of a top state official, has won some influential backers by casting herself as the race's unwavering Democrat.
DeJuliis, 67, calls herself a "proud progressive" and argues that Brochin's independent streak has hurt his relationships in the Democratic Party, causing many of his bills to fail.
Despite sponsoring more than 150 bills, Brochin has passed only 13 of those bills during his 12 years in the Senate, DeJuliis points out.
"I am a Democrat. I have core values and principles," DeJuliis says. "I will not waiver. It's hard to know what his core values are. They change all the time."
Brochin says his centrist views better represent the 42nd District, which now stretches from the suburbs of Towson to the farms of Hereford. He's socially liberal on many issues, he says, voting for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana. But he's fiscally conservative.
"Most of my values are Democratic," he says. "Yes, I didn't vote to raise taxes. There's nothing wrong with living within our means. I'm sorry the party line is raising taxes, but I'm not going to do it."
The recent state redistricting process made the district, which once leaned Democratic, more conservative.
Brochin said party leaders were hoping he'd lose to a Republican when they drew the new district lines. O'Malley, he says, is still angry that Brochin sided with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. over state control of Baltimore City schools. Brochin's conflict with Kamenetz stems from the senator's opposition to a county plan to pave a community park for a fire station.
As he walks door-to-door in the Towson neighborhood of Anneslie, Brochin's independence is admired. He's trekked these same streets in four election cycles now, and many voters greet him with a familiar, "Hi Jim!" before he can speak. Brochin walks fast, covering ground quickly. One election, he walked so much he lost 13 pounds, he says.
"We like that you look at the issue," says one voter, Edward Craig. "We like that you don't always vote the party line."
Brochin points to legislative battles he's won, such as bills to have a partially elected county school board and reform the state's speed camera programs. He cites his role in legislation imposing tougher sentences for sex offenders, preserving Towson University's MBA program and fighting development of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
"I've taken on some really tough fights," he says.
DeJuliis is no less persuasive as she greets voters nearby in nearby Idlewylde. She tells an up-by-her-bootstraps life story: The daughter of a steelworker. The single mother of three in Dundalk who worked the night shift on an assembly line to feed her family and put her kids through school.
"I know what hard work is," she says.
When drugs came into Dundalk, DeJuliis formed a community group to fight their spread. In 1990, she ran for state delegate and won, beating a ticket of men.
"They said, 'She's a woman. ... She can't raise the money,'" DeJuliis recalls. "I worked harder and I worked smarter and I beat them."
DeJuliis, who now lives in Glen Arm, travels with an entourage of half a dozen supporters. She talks sports and local issues, like stopping school redistricting and supporting an elected school board. While DeJuliis lands some commitments for votes along the route, Vera Case, a lecturer at Towson University, says she's still undecided.
"I'm not supporting either one right now," Case says. "We'll look at each of the candidate's positions."
One of DeJuliis' supporters, Max Adelstein, a freshman at nearby Goucher College, acknowledges that Brochin is well-known to voters. But he says many like what DeJuliis is pitching.
"She wants to be a progressive voice for Baltimore County," he says. "She's not as well-known, but that's actually been a good thing. A lot of people like to hear that she would be the first woman to win this Senate seat."
Brochin has some advantages in the contest. He has $228,000 in his campaign account, compared with $41,000 for DeJuliis. And his campaign signs are noticeable throughout the district.
Those signs have spawned a bit of controversy in the race.
DeJuliis' husband, Ron, the state's commissioner of labor and industry, was charged this month with stealing some of Brochin's signs in Parkville. DeJuliis released a statement saying her husband had "explicit and exclusive" permission to post signs at the location, but acknowledged he should not have removed Brochin's signs.
"For that he is sorry," DeJuliis' statement said. "I also apologize, and promise that no one in my campaign will remove any Brochin signs in the future."
It's not the only time the campaign has turned negative.
In an interview, Brochin raised questions about DeJuliis' record of missing about 1,000 votes during her four years in the House of Delegates from 1991 to 1994. He also questioned her work as a lobbyist for the chemical company Honeywell International Inc., which he argues will offend the district's environmentalists.
"The voters don't want their state senator to be a lobbyist for a chemical company," he says.
DeJuliis says a death in her family, a personal illness and her father's failing health contributed to the missed votes.
"My dad was seriously ill for a long time," she says. "I was the person in my family that my parents' relied on. I was literally called off the floor of the House."
As for the Honeywell work, DeJuliis says her client is a model company, who helped build a track at Sollers Point Technical High School, among other good deeds in the Dundalk area.
"I would not work for them if they weren't a great company," she says.
The primary election is June 24. The winner will face Republican Tim Robinson, a Lutherville doctor.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Job: Three-term state senator. Insurance broker.
Family: Single, one daughter
Hometown: Glen Arm
Job: Former state delegate. Owner of DeJuliis & Associates. Lobbyist, Honeywell International.
Family: Re-married, three children, three step-children