Pr. George's candidates face marathon to woo thousands of undecided voters

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 11, 2010; B01

The schedules are packed with door-knocking, neighborhood canvassing, community picnics and visits to the county's many large churches, as the dozens of candidates in Prince George's Democratic primary begin their push to the finish line before Tuesday's balloting begins.

With thousands of voters still undecided according to many candidates, the next few days will turn into a marathon, the results of which might not be known until well after the polls close at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

"Sleep? Who needs that," Sheriff Michael Jackson, one of five Democrats seeking his party's nomination for county executive, said jokingly as he wrapped up a news conference attacking former delegate Rushern L. Baker III.

All the candidates -- Baker, Jackson, Del. Gerron S. Levi, businessman Henry Turner and County Council member Samuel H. Dean, who is being forced out of his seat by term limits -- were preparing for a busy schedule, which has many of them crisscrossing the county in search of last-minute converts.

At his news conference, Jackson said Baker had overstated his record on economic development and education. He charged that a group Backer formerly worked for had to return $845,000 in grants.

Baker's staff said that he left the group, Peoples Involvement Corporation, in 1998, before the grants were awarded and that he had no connection to the returned funds. In a statement, Baker said he knew "how to bring jobs and business to challenged areas."

Prince George's residents are facing an array of big decisions Tuesday as they choose a new county executive, at least five members of the County Council, a sheriff and a state's attorney. There are 398,000 registered Democrats, 46,000 registered Republicans and about 70,000 voters affiliated with smaller political parties or registered as independents, making Tuesday the de facto general election. Only the Board of Education races, in which 37 hopefuls are vying for nine seats, are nonpartisan.

Informal predictions from party regulars suggest that about 100,000 county Democrats, about 25 percent of those eligible, will vote Tuesday.

Already, 14,541 residents have cast ballots at sites across the county in Maryland's first early voting, which is aimed at easing the crunch at polling places on primary day. Early voting ended Thursday, said county elections administrator Alisha L. Alexander. Her staff has processed 5,426 requests for absentee ballots as they prepare polling places, put guidelines in place for election judges and gird themselves for any problems that might arise with voting machines, a source of trouble in past Maryland elections.

While many candidates and political leaders have been lining up endorsements, one prominent politician, County Executive Jack B. Johnson -- barred by limits from seeking a third term -- has been conspicuously absent, even though many on his staff and political organization are working for Jackson.

Johnson's neutrality might end this weekend, as he is expected to finally endorse Jackson. Three former county executives -- Wayne K. Curry, former governor Parris N. Glendening and Winfield Kelly -- are backing Baker.

Many candidates have stepped up their rhetoric and their mailings in recent days, flooding mailboxes with fliers and proposed slates that some voters have found confusing. Late Thursday night, state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, who is backing Baker, made robocalls to voters in his northern county district, reminding them that although Jackson had put out a flier that appeared to show Pinsky endorsing him, Pinsky is backing Baker. Other fliers have shown Dean with state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, but Muse is backing Baker. And state Sen. Ulysses Currie has been shown with state's attorney candidate Angela Alsobrooks in a flier, when Currie actually is backing Tom Dernoga.

Sorting through the candidates will be a challenge for many voters. There are 45 contenders for the nine council spots, one of whom is a Republican. In the race for school board, the two top vote-getters in each district where there are more than two candidates on the ballot will compete in the general election.

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