The race for Maryland's 1st Congressional District features a restaurant owner and businessman who has attacked seven-term Republican incumbent Wayne T. Gilchrest on the issue Gilchrest feels is his strongest: the environment.
Kostas Alexakis, a Democrat who has never held office and recently moved to the district, said the Chesapeake Bay has grown more polluted during Gilchrest's time in office.
Gilchrest dismisses such criticism as uninformed. The former schoolteacher said he has made the environment a top priority, and points to endorsements by groups such as the League of Conservation Voters.
Anne Arundel voters will also go to the polls Tuesday to elect a U.S. senator and members of Congress for the 3rd and 5th districts.
Considered one of the House's moderate Republicans, Gilchrest has opposed a plan to drill for oil and gas in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He has also worked to create a "conservation corridor" of open space on the Delmarva peninsula.
Alexakis, a native of Greece, finished second in the Democratic primary and was appointed the nominee after the winner dropped out because of illness. That shortened the amount of time he has had to raise funds and campaign.
Still, Alexakis said he thinks his business background should appeal to voters. As the president of an investment company, he owns the TexMex Grill and Big Bubba's restaurant in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The district covers all nine counties of Maryland's Eastern Shore plus Cecil County and slices of Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
In Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, nine-term incumbent Benjamin L. Cardin (D), the former speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, is facing challenges from Republican Robert P. Duckworth, the Anne Arundel County court clerk, and Patsy Allen, a Green Party candidate.
Cardin is known as an expert on Social Security and is a member of the Ways and Means Committee. If reelected, he said, he would work to shrink the national deficit. A member of the Select Committee on Homeland Security, he has promoted a more aggressive stance on protecting the country, he said.
Like his party's presidential nominee, John Kerry, he wants U.S. allies to assume more of the costs of the war in Iraq. He also supports the senator's plan to roll back President Bush's tax cuts for the country's wealthiest citizens.
Taxes have also played a key role in Duckworth's campaign. One of his main themes has been: "If you vote for me, you'll have more money in your pocket."
As for experience, he points to his record as court clerk, where he has managed a department with a $5 million annual budget and processed more than 3,000 adoptions. He has also been active in the Crofton Civic Association.
Allen said she is running to promote the Green Party ideals of social justice and "environmental wisdom."
The district covers much of the Washington-Baltimore suburbs, stretching from Towson and Reisterstown, north of Baltimore, down through Elkridge and Columbia in Howard County. Then it swings east into the Anne Arundel County communities of Glen Burnie and Annapolis.
In the 5th District, Republican Brad Jewitt, 34, faces 12-term incumbent Democrat and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
Jewitt, an ex-Marine, said Hoyer is more liberal than the constituents he represents, citing his opposition to a ban on what foes term "partial birth" abortions and his vote against a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and flag burning.
"My opponent doesn't share our views and values," he said.
Hoyer's supporters say he has brought tens of millions in federal dollars to the district, much of it to Patuxent River Naval Air Station and Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center.
Hoyer, 65, of Mechanicsville, said the deficit is the most urgent problem facing the country. "Our fiscal policy has been terrible," he said, calling the GOP tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 "fiscally irresponsible."
Jewitt supports further tax cuts, although he declined to say how the Congress could make them without increasing the national debt.
In the Senate race, three-term incumbent Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) is facing State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's), a former Wall Street junk bond dealer who has used more than $1 million of his own money to finance his race.
Pipkin, elected to the state Senate in 2002, determined that the election of Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. (R) helped pave the way for other Republicans to run statewide even though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans two to one in Maryland.
A native of Dundalk, he moved back to Maryland in the late 1990s and became involved in a successful effort to stop plans to dredge Baltimore harbor and dump the spoils near his 18-acre home on Kent Island near the Bay Bridge. Mikulski, he said, did nothing to help his efforts, a claim she disputes.
Pipkin's campaign has focused on what he says is Mikulski's pattern of supporting higher taxes, opposing defense spending and sending soldiers to war without proper equipment or pay. Mikulski says he is distorting her record and mischaracterizing many of her Senate votes.
Mikulski, who grew up in East Baltimore, is a former social worker who served on the Baltimore City Council and spent 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives before winning her Senate seat in 1986. She serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and has pursued legislation that she says is aimed at helping the elderly, middle-class families and college students trying to pay rising tuition costs. Her campaign has raised more than $5 million, which, coupled with Pipkin's extensive self-financing, makes the race one of the most expensive in Maryland history.