They appear, at first glance, to be models of opposing political myths, each pursuing his own version of the American dream.
Theodore J. Sophocleus, 51, the Democratic nominee for county executive, is Baltimore born and bred, Greek Orthodox to the bone, a product of the urban ethnic coalition that has helped shape his party's liberal agenda for generations. His career, his instincts, his record and his rhetoric all bear the stamp of North County, where he carved out his piece of the pie like so many other former city dwellers.
Republican Robert R. Neall, 42, is also Baltimore born but raised from birth in Davidsonville, Episcopalian, and deeply rooted in the conservative rural suspicion of government that dates to the nation's founding. His career, his instincts, his record and his rhetoric are all imprinted by South County, where he staked his claim in the tradition of its farming community.
These are the myths that the candidates embrace, each man trying to convince voters that he is one with them and should be elected to represent them.
With the boom years behind us and a recession and cap on property taxes probably looming ahead, they both promise to "do the right thing" if chosen. Sophocleus pledging always to be guided by compassion for the people during the hard times; Neall emphatically declaring that he will not shrink from the tough decisions needed to protect the people's interests.
The two men agree that they present voters an obvious and easy choice to make Nov. 6.
Sophocleus proudly itemizes an 8-year record on a County Council that expanded services, boosted pay for teachers, swelled police ranks and erected environmental safeguards, while reforming shaky finances in a county now the envy of some wealthier but deficit-ridden neighbors.
To sum up what he offers voters, Sophocleus pointed Wednesday night to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who made his second foray into Glen Burnie to publicly endorse the two-term County Councilman for executive.
"When he was mayor, he said, 'What have you done for the people today?' That's the theme of our campaign," Sophocleus said. "Our theme has been that we are an extension of the people we represent."
Neall has his own history of impressive achievement during three terms as a state delegate, when he led a bruising fight to save the state's public employee pension system from bankruptcy, helped the General Assembly to halt the panic caused by the savings and loan crisis, co-authored the committee that establishes limits of taxation, and funneled money to the county for parks, schools, light rail and environmentally sensitive landmarks such as the Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
Neall, who resigned as the state's first drug czar in May to run for executive, makes the same promise to all voters, even those who might suspect his fiscal conservatism. He drew on the motto of chicken mogul Frank Perdue Thursday morning at a forum on poverty sponsored by the Community Action Agency in Annapolis' Asbury United Methodist Church.
"I think times are going to get tough a little, but it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," Neall said in a room crowded with black clergy and social service workers and clients. "I will give you compassionate, responsive government that will deliver vital services at a price you can afford to pay."
In presenting their visions of the future, the two candidates draw on their separate myths, even while insisting that the lessons to be learned -- as in all parables, are universal -- and should inspire voters throughout the county.
They deliberately draw themselves in contrasts, hoping to demonstrate to the voters that the other is not like them.
But Sophocleus and Neall both have a story to tell and those stories show that they are often more alike than unlike.
One afternoon with the candidates' parents reveals who each man is and how similar they are to one another.
William W. Neall Sr., 75, changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican this year so he could vote for his son in the primary.
A life-long Democrat born and raised in Glen Burnie, William wasn't bothered when his son went to work for House minority leader Edward Hall in 1972 and joined the Republicans the following year.
"As far as politics is concerned, I've never tried to steer my children one way or the other," William said. "They've always had sense enough to do for themselves."
Doing for themselves is something that the Neall family has been known for ever since the Depression.
William was just 17 years old when his father lost their home to foreclosure, in 1932, when $1,900 in arrears was a fortune.
But he and his future wife, Doris, delayed getting married until he was 25, because they both worked to help their families make it.