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Laboring for votes in Prince George's

Members of the Greenbelt Boys and Girls Club, including Logan Balot, front, belt out a cheer during the city's Labor Day parade.
Members of the Greenbelt Boys and Girls Club, including Logan Balot, front, belt out a cheer during the city's Labor Day parade. (Katherine Frey)

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By Miranda S. Spivack and Aaron C. Davis
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Washington Post Staff Writers

Every year politicians easily outnumber firetrucks at Greenbelt's Labor Day parade, but on Monday the rite of passage in Prince George's County politics had a special intensity that melded the friction of big-city politics with small-town America.

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Before the bands tuned up, supporters for the two candidates widely considered front-runners for county executive jostled for space and shouted each other down with chants of "your county exec" in the race to replace Jack B. Johnson as leader of the Washington region's third-largest jurisdiction.

As the parade began, a block-long mass of green-and-yellow-clad supporters for Rushern L. Baker III (D) followed the former state lawmaker as he darted back and forth to shake hands. Just behind him, Democratic Sheriff Michael Jackson's supporters, decked out in red, white and blue, passed out small American flags.

Labor Day marked the latest leg of Maryland's first experience with early voting and the start of a week-long sprint to the Sept. 14 primary. After the parade, Jackson and Baker sped off to greet voters at early-polling stations and knock on doors.

Prince George's residents will decide on a new county executive, at least five members of the County Council, a sheriff and a state's attorney. Because the county is overwhelmingly Democratic, winning the primary is a near-guarantee of victory in November's general election.

Jackson is making his first run for the county's top job after serving eight years as sheriff. He has the backing of Johnson's organization and many of his staff members, but Johnson is officially on the sidelines.

"We're going to try to touch as many voters in the next week as we can," Jackson said as he finished working the parade line.

Baker is making his third run for the seat after losing twice to Johnson, who is barred by term limits from seeking another four years. In recent weeks, Baker has picked up a slew of endorsements, including that of former county executive Wayne K. Curry, but he said there is more work to do. "We're going to run like we're 10 points behind," he said.

The rest of the field

Although Baker and Jackson are widely considered the top contenders in the field of five, neither is assured victory. Samuel H. Dean, a former chairman of the County Council, has a loyal and vocal following.

"I'm just as competitive as Michael Jackson or as Rushern Baker, and, possibly, I may be the number one person," Dean said Monday. "The difference is, I'm the only one who can go in and on Day One know how to run the county."

Two other candidates - Del. Gerron S. Levi, a lawyer, former lobbyist for organized labor and longtime Capitol Hill staffer, and Henry C. Turner Jr., a businessman and retired Army lieutenant colonel - will peel away votes.

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