If the four County Council races were sporting events, no one would know the score. Many would not even know the players.
The nagging, unspoken question candidates are asking themselves in this election is, "Does anybody care?" Only 25 percent of the electorate turned out for the primaries.
But the primaries offered voters few choices. In some precincts, the only choices voters had were for school board or their party's central committee.
Many people expect the Nov. 6 turnout to be higher since most of the races will be contested, but none know how much higher.
In other years, Republicans might have talked about how a new influx of Bush voters gives them a better chance. This year, Republicans and Democrats alike say they expect people to vote for the individual, not the party.
The eight County Council candidates in contested races are approaching the last nine days of the campaign as though they are behind.
Only C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, is worry free. He alone has no opposition.
The issues are the same in every district: growth management, environmental protection, adequate public facilities, and quality education -- ingredients all the candidates agree are necessary.
What they differ on is who could do a better job dealing with them.
Republican Dennis R. Schrader, 37, who is challenging council chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, 40, says Pendergrass should be replaced because she has a "political rather than a professional" perspective about a county that has "become very complicated."
Schrader says that in a "one-party system" (four of the five council members are Democrats), it is important for the council to act as a check and balance to the executive.
The council, under Pendergrass' leadership, has not done that, he says.
"If the executive (incumbent Democrat M. Elizabeth Bobo) decides she wants something, it slides through with no oversight, no critical analysis," Schrader says.
Having served as assistant director at Bethesda Naval Hospital during its master plan implementation and currently as director of facilities of the University of Maryland medical center, Schrader says he has the professional experience necessary to "go through a line-item budget" and find ways of "attacking budget analysis."
"I know how systems work and how to ask the right questions," Schrader says. "I view the County Council as a board of directors which is there to help facilitate, help ask the right questions."
Schrader also thinks he can do a better job of serving constituents. He says he would keep Saturday office hours and have breakfasts with "people in the community" each week to hear their concerns if he is elected.
Since he began campaigning in April a year ago, Schrader estimates he has knocked on 4,000 doors. In that time, he has raised $21,000 and spent about $20,000 he says.
Although running as a Republican, Schrader emphasizes what he calls the "bipartisan nature of his campaign," pointing out that his campaign chairman is a Democrat.
"There's been a change in the political structure," Schrader says. "I, for example, am involved with things traditionally associated with Democrats -- minority issues, small businesses and housing."
Pendergrass says she deserves re-election on the basis of her background on four issues: community service, education, environment and land use.
They are issues that have occupied her over the last decade, she said.
She says experience counts, too. "I'm better at getting things done now than I was four years ago," she said.
She also points to her "ability to respond to a wide variety of people" in a "very diverse" district running along the county's eastern corridor from Elkridge to Savage.
"I know people in all parts of the district and I am seen often in ways other than as council chairman -- through cub scouts, soccer, at the grocery store," Pendergrass says.
Lastly, she points to her record -- votes for "environmental protection, growth management, home buyer protection, day care, affordable housing, and education."
"I've set up meetings over the past four years to make sure people are briefed and informed," she says. "I try to bring information to the community."
A former artist and teacher, Pendergrass says she has raised between $20,000 to $30,000 on her campaign and will spend virtually all of it. "I'm not planning to have a war chest," she says.
In council district 2, which comprises Ellicott City, Republican Darrel Drown, 39, is making another run at incumbent Democrat Angela Beltram, 51, who beat him by 822 votes in 1986.
Beltram needs to be replaced, Drown says, by someone like himself who can "plan long range."
"She claims to be a no-growth advocate, but Ellicott City has had the highest growth rate in the county in the last four years," Drown says. "She seems more concerned about taking farmland than about conditions in Ellicott City."