From the clothes they wear to the way they speak, from their political histories to their personal lives, 5th District County Council hopefuls Diane Evans and Linda Gilligan could not be any more different.
And, with the Nov. 6 general election just two weeks away, the race between Gilligan, an admittedly non-political Democrat, and Evans, who lives and breathes Republican ideals, could not be any closer.
"It's neck and neck," said Gretel Derby, president of the Cape St.
Claire Improvement Association. "I have no idea who's going to win this one."
The Evans-Gilligan race is hard to call for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that neither political party has an upper hand in this district, which includes Severna Park and the Lower Broadneck Peninsula. There are 16,521 registered Democrats, 16,547 Republicans.
With its constituency of white, middle- and upper-middle-class professionals, the 5th District has a history of voting Republican. But then, it put Democrat Carole B. Baker, the outgoing councilwoman, in office for two terms.
With party strength even, the winner will be the candidate who can swing the most crossover votes -- and doing that may be more a function of style than substance. Like the county executive's race, which pits Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus' working-class affability against Republican Robert R. Neall's buttoned-down professionalism, this contest features two vastly different styles.
Consider the contrast:
Gilligan, 38, was a working mother who five years ago quit her job as a hospital budget analyst after her youngest daughter developed health problems. She is married to Brian Gilligan, a pharmacist and younger brother of Michael F. Gilligan, who just left the council after a losing bid for county executive. They have three children, ages 13, 6 and 3.
Evans, 42, and her husband, Jeff, a demographer and economist, have a couple of cats, but no children. She's worked for the last 10 years as a domestic support officer with the Anne Arundel Circuit Court.
The Evanses live in an Arnold condominium, beautifully furnished with Queen Anne furniture.
The Gilligans live in a big two-story house in Chartwell. There are Halloween decorations on the counters and Popsicles in the freezer.
When speaking in public, Evans appears well-informed, articulate and intense; Gilligan comes off as well-informed, articulate and relaxed.
Evans has a preference for skirts, blouses with lace collars and flats; Gilligan wears high heels and dresses.
Evans has been active in GOP politics for more than 20 years and has a lengthy resume of both political and civic activities and honors. She has run for public office twice before, making a respectable showing both times.
Gilligan never was involved in politics until she announced her candidacy this year. Her civic activism consists mainly of involvement in the PTA, coaching childrens' sports, serving as a delegate to the school board nominating convention and as president of the Greater Severna Park Mothers and Toddlers Club.
"I'm a non-political type, I'm a community type," Gilligan said at an Oct. 18 forum in Severna Park. "I'm almost like Jane Doe."
Rather than downplaying her lack of political experience, Gilligan has capitalized on it. The popularity of Baker, who came from a civic rather than political background and who was known for constituent service, has not been lost on her.
"The people want to get politicians out of politics," she said. "The fact that I'm not tainted by political connections is appealing to people.
"I really don't think ideology is a factor for a candidate in a county council race," said Gilligan, who topped seven other Democrats in the primary. "It's the candidate who people think will deal with them on a day-to-day basis and who will listen on the issues. Partisan philosophy doesn't mean a whole lot. . . . I'd really like to get away from this party thing."
To Evans, a fervent disciple of GOP fiscal conservatism and laissez faire, the "party thing" is everything. She believes Gilligan is minimizing her political affiliation because Democratic economic policies have become indefensible.
"She knows the philosophy I have is not just my party -- it's what the conservative Democrats are looking at, it's what the independents are looking at. It's the way this district's been voting for years and years."
Evans and her supporters also dispute Gilligan's claim to be untainted by political connections, using every opportunity to emphasize her most obvious and inescapable political link.
"Once Linda won the primary," said Maury Chaput, Evans' campaign treasurer, "we knew the only thing we had to deal with was her brother-in-law's last name."
"Of course they were working together," Evans said. "(Mike Gilligan, who is from Glen Burnie) needed to get the vote in the 5th district, and she was his stalking horse to get it. He did extensive advertising, and she got the name recognition.