For Anne Healey, Del. Anne MacKinnon's resignation this summer from her House of Delegates seat representing the 22nd District was a "go-ahead" sign:
"I thought, 'Running against three incumbents is going to be hard.' But with two, I thought, 'Maybe I have a good chance.' It seemed like the right moment."
MacKinnon's resignation -- which freed her to replace James Herl on the Prince George's County Council -- has also boosted the optimism of two others who have entered the Sept. 11 Democratic primary.
Healey, C. Hope Brown and M. Teresa O'Hare Johnson will be vying against each other and incumbents Richard A. Palumbo and Paul G. Pinsky to represent the residents of this district in the northwestern corner of the county. The 22nd District spans Hyattsville to New Carrollton and takes in Riverdale, Cheverly and Bladensburg. Its boundaries encompass numerous apartment complexes, but most of the neighborhoods embrace the Colonial and Victorian homes of blue- and white-collar workers.
The three top vote-getters in the primary will face Republican challengers Gerard F. Kiernan, Mary E. Rand and Bruce Gordon Pope in the November general election.
The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, with registered Republicans outnumbered almost 3 to 1 by registered Democrats.
Johnson, 50, is a newly minted incumbent. She was selected by the Democratic Central Committee -- which she heads -- to replace MacKinnon. She was sworn into the House of Delegates on July 31.
Johnson has deep roots in the area. A longtime civic activist from Hyattsville, she lives five blocks from where she was born and has served on the Democratic Central Committee for eight years.
Johnson and Healey, a freelance writer and member of the Hyattsville City Council, are part of a slate that includes incumbent Sen. Thomas Patrick O'Reilly. O'Reilly has no primary opposition and will face Republican Jack R. Jones in the Nov. 6 general election.
Observers and the candidates acknowledge that Palumbo and Pinsky -- top vote-getters in the 1986 election -- seem securely entrenched and that the three women will have to vie against each other for the third spot on the ticket.
"I think that perhaps the other two incumbents have an edge. But they're not neccessarily a shoo-in," Johnson said.
Palumbo, 52, a lawyer in private practice who has served in the state House and Senate for 12 years, said he is not complacent. "I never take things for granted. I go out and work as hard as I did when I first ran," he said.
Pinsky, a former head of the county's teachers union who maintains the strong backing of local education, labor and women's groups that led to his win in 1986, said in an interview that he approached O'Reilly about a spot on the slate two months ago but never heard from the senator.
Pinsky, 40, is on a slate with Palumbo, an arrangement he called a "quasi-slate" because, he said, it recognizes their support of similar causes such as recycling but gives them room to take different stands on other issues.
All of the candidates said that the abortion issue has not been a major concern among voters they have informally canvassed. Their door-knocking has turned up few who are looking at this race from any abortion stance, they said.
"Nobody's talking about" abortion, said Palumbo, who refused to disclose his position on the issue during a recent interview. "I've heard maybe two people and one was for it and one was against it."
Said Healey, 39, "There isn't any overriding issue. People are more concerned about crime, environment, taxes."
Elder care and cleaning up the Anacostia River are among the issues on which Healey is campaigning.
But C. Hope Brown, a lawyer in private practice and the only black candidate in the race, is outspoken on her stand for abortion rights.
"It's very critical that the legislature make some decision next year," said Brown, referring to this year's abortion battle that ended with the General Assembly effectively taking no stand.
"I want a definitive statement, hopefully a pro-choice position," Brown said.
A Riverdale resident who moved to the county five years ago from Durham, S.C., Brown, 33, lists economic empowerment of women and minorities as one of her major concerns. She supports setting aside some government contracts for minorities.
Echoing a theme that's been repeated in several districts where black candidates are challenging the status quo, Brown said one of her goals is "getting more of us who have the same views elected, on the state and county level." The 22nd district is about 24 percent black.
Palumbo, a 51-year-old lawyer, said he is running on a record of public service that has brought millions to the county for education and roads. He said his efforts in passing drunk driving and truck safety legislation have led to a safer Capital Beltway. And he has sponsored legislation giving senior citizens tax breaks and free community college tuition.
During his freshman term, Pinsky championed mandatory recycling, lower interest rates on Maryland bank cards and laws that make it harder for insurance companies to increase rates.