Leopold, Johnson Lead County Executive Races

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Republican state Del. John R. Leopold and Democratic Sheriff George F. Johnson IV held commanding leads early today in hard-fought primary contests to succeed Janet S. Owens as Anne Arundel's county executive.

In closely watched state Senate primaries in the northern county, computer systems engineer Bryan W. Simonaire was running far ahead among five Republicans. Vietnam veteran Walter J. Shandrowsky led the Democrats.

Much of the drama in Anne Arundel centered on the race for county executive. The field included five Republicans and two Democrats, all familiar names, competing for an open seat. Owens (D), a two-term incumbent, was barred from running again by term limits.

Leopold, a shoe-leather populist, set the tone for an epic contest by launching an informal campaign years ahead of the election. He became known for standing alone at roadsides, waving and holding a sign that read, simply, "LEOPOLD." He amassed a large campaign fund, padded out with his own money, but spent comparatively little in the final months, favoring personal contact over television and mass mailings.

"In this race, I campaigned for 3 1/2 years," Leopold said. "So last night, I ended like I started, knocking on doors."

Leopold's two main rivals, state Del. David G. Boschert of Crownsville and former gubernatorial appointee Phil Bissett of Mayo, campaigned hard down the stretch but may have split the vote in the Republican-rich center of the county.

Although Boschert started campaigning much later than Leopold, he quickly gained visibility. He spent $110,000 in the second half of August on a blitz of cable and newspaper ads and planted signs all over the county.

"It all went according to schedule," Boschert said. "And I am tired."

Bissett had less money to spend than the others, but opponents credited him with running a savvy campaign. A former state delegate and Ehrlich administration appointee, he had the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R).

Boschert and Leopold split the major newspaper endorsements between them. Greg Nourse, chief business officer of the county schools, and Tom Angelis, a Baltimore City high school teacher, rounded out the GOP field.

Johnson, the three-term county sheriff, had been widely favored to defeat challenger Dennis Callahan, the former Annapolis mayor. Johnson spent $199,000 in the last half of August, more than any candidate of either party, including $113,000 on direct mailing alone.

"We're a very happy camp tonight," Johnson said, pausing during a celebration at a Linthicum restaurant.

Johnson campaign spokesman Mike Rendina said the strategy was to "out-communicate all of our opponents on every facet" of the race, looking toward the general election.

The county executive campaign's major themes related to growth: traffic, sprawl and the impending expansion of Fort Meade in the west of the county. All seven candidates pledged to limit growth, ease traffic and anticipate the growing demand for infrastructure in the military corridor. Among the Republicans, Leopold positioned himself as the candidate least beholden to developers, while Bissett and Boschert spoke of fruitful collaborations among builders, homeowners and environmentalists.

Turnout seemed light, according to Barbara Fisher, the county election director. And glitches were few -- at least by comparison with trouble-plagued Montgomery County. Fisher said she heard of some lines stretching from voting machines to the polling place doors, but not beyond. Fisher attributed the slowdowns to a shortage of election officials, some of whom failed to show up, and to the large number of new election judges.

It was a smooth day, "under the circumstances," she said.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 133,230 to 117,867 in Anne Arundel, but the gap has been closing, and 52,901 voters are unaffiliated. The GOP had its eye on at least three state Senate seats in the county, and one of those came down to a dramatic primary.

Longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Philip C. Jimeno retired, leaving an open seat in District 31. Democrats still outnumber Republicans in the district, but the margin has been shrinking. Several well-known names emerged as potential candidates, including Leopold and conservative Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr., also a Republican. But in the end, the race fell to a slate of lesser-known locals.

Simonaire, a father of seven from Pasadena, had a clear lead in a five-candidate field for the Republican nomination. He had campaigned as a family man, pro-business and grounded in conservative values.

In the Democratic primary in District 31, Shandrowsky, a decorated Vietnam helicopter pilot, led his lone opponent, Matthew L. McBride, a health-care policy analyst.

The candidates are running in a suburban Baltimore district that stretches south to Severna Park.

Perhaps the most watched state House race in the county played out in District 30, home to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D). The Annapolis area district had three seats and two incumbents, following the departure of Del. Herbert H. McMillan (R) to run for Senate.

Leading the Republicans early today were Ron George, an Annapolis jeweler; Andy Smarick, a charter-school expert; and Ron Elfenbein, an emergency room doctor.

Among the Democrats, County Council member Barbara Samorajczyk was running third, behind the two incumbents.

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