Every candidate seeking to represent Charles County in the General Assembly agrees that the growing state budget deficit and local transportation needs are the two biggest issues looming over this year's legislative races.

But the eight candidates do not concur on who is to blame for the state's fiscal woes or how to fix them. These differences of opinion have helped define a field of candidates who otherwise are aligned in their support of better schools, more economic development and less crime.

Three Republicans and three Democrats are competing for the three District 28 House of Delegates seats elected at-large from Charles County. Neither threesome is running as a slate.

During the campaign, incumbent Republican Del. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins has used news conferences to announce his stances on such issues as slot machines and the state's transportation trust fund. He supports installing slot machines at Maryland racetracks to generate revenue that could combat the state budget deficit.

Hutchins opposes raising the state's gas tax to pay for increased transportation spending, arguing that transferring a penny from the existing state sales tax would be more efficient and less burdensome on Southern Maryland residents.

"One thing for sure is we can't tax our way out of this [deficit]," he said.

The other two Republican House of Delegates candidates, both self-described conservatives, agree. Robert Boudreaux describes his platform as "pro-God, pro-family, pro-life and lower taxes." He opposes gambling.

James Crawford, who lost his bid for a House of Delegates seat four years ago, also opposes any form of state-supported gambling. He advocates an immediate upgrade for Route 301 and criticizes the current Democratic leadership for the lack of progress made on relieving the traffic congestion in Waldorf and Hughesville.

"The Democrats -- the incumbents -- have been in power 20 years [and] have been studying these things to death," Crawford said. "It's time to put down the studies and pick up the shovel. My grandmother could have done it by now."

Longtime Del. Samuel C. Linton Jr.'s loss in the primary election left Del. Van T. Mitchell as the only Democratic incumbent in the at-large race. Sally Jameson and Jim Jarboe round out the Democrats' ticket.

The three have not presented themselves as a team, though an agreement among the Democratic candidates not to criticize one another publicly after the primary somewhat tempered general election campaigning.

Mitchell said his main concern for the next legislative session is health care. He said there is no one solution for fixing the state budget deficit but noted that he is "totally opposed" to slot machines.

"A 5 percent reduction in our budget would have balanced our budget last year," he said. "If we can't adjust 5 percent . . . then I think we've got problems."

Jameson, executive director of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce, is against slot machines, while current county commissioner Jarboe supports them as long as each county can decide for itself whether to allow such legalized gambling.

Both Jameson and Jarboe favor securing funding for new roads in the county and getting those projects started. Jarboe has distanced himself from his party, however, by refusing to support the idea of a Route 301 western bypass around Waldorf. He cites environmental and engineering concerns as his reasons for instead backing a bypass that would run east of Waldorf.

Jameson said that the Southern Maryland delegation needs a female representative.

"People feel that the female perspective is welcomed," she said. "I think there is something to be said for that."

In the District 28 state Senate race, incumbent Sen. Thomas McLain "Mac" Middleton (D) is touting his eight years of experience in the legislature. Middleton said that as chairman of the capital budget subcommittee he has helped secure funding for various school programs, community colleges and public safety.

But Republican challenger Jim Easter, a substitute teacher in Charles County public schools, said Middleton has little to show for his long ties to county politics. Easter ran unsuccessfully against Middleton in 1994, and he said his opponent is partly to blame for "leaving the state broke."

"My opponent voted for the deficit spending," he said. "He supported the governor's budget repeatedly. I just don't see what he's brought."