Four years ago, Republican John Klocko III nearly pulled off a stunning upset, losing to incumbent Virginia P. Clagett in the general election for South County's 7th District seat by less than 2 percent.
This year, Ms. Clagett, who is leaving the County Council because of a term limit law, is running for the House of Delegates.
With a wide-open race, Mr. Klocko says he believes he has an excellent opportunity for victory -- not just in the September Republican primary, but in November as well -- and accepts the label of front-runner in the County Council race.
"It's kind of a common-sense conclusion to reach," said Mr. Klocko, 37, a Crofton attorney and a self-described fiscal conservative in the mold of departing County Executive Robert R. Neall. "I definitely think it's an advantage to have run an almost-successful race . . . I definitely think it gives me a leg up on people who haven't been into this forum."
But, he added, "I think there's more to it than just name recognition . . . I think there's a certain level of credibility, some consistency I suppose."
Not so fast, say Mr. Klocko's two Republican opponents. Front-runner or not, they contend there are chinks in his armor that make him vulnerable.
James Overmier Jr., 34, comptroller for the Crofton Special Community Benefits District, said Mr. Klocko's biggest disadvantage may be his profession. He said he has detected a lTC strong anti-attorney sentiment as he has campaigned door to door.
"They ask me, 'Are you a lawyer?' I say 'no' and they say, 'You've got my vote!' " Mr. Overmier said.
The third Republican candidate, Jacqueline Potter, 44, a Mayo accountant and community activist, said the disadvantage for both Mr. Klocko and Mr. Overmier may be their Crofton addresses. The 7th District encompasses South County, but also includes Crofton, which many South Countians would consider a West County community.
"South County tends to vote for people from South County," Ms. Potter said. She is hoping Mr. Klocko and Mr. Overmier will divide the Crofton vote, which accounts for about one-third of the district, and leave South County for her. "My stand on the [stricter enforcement] zoning laws -- I'll carry South County just with that."
Nonsense, says Mr. Klocko.
"I think that is a real typical knee-jerk reaction," he said. "I have not experienced that on a large scale at all. That's why I think it's bunk."
He points to his experience in county government -- as chairman of the Eastern Bypass Task Force and the Amusement Licensing Commission, which oversees bingo parlors -- as a distinct advantage over his opponents.
Both Mr. Overmier and Ms. Potter, with less money to spend, are concentrating on meeting as many voters as possible. Ms. Potter goes to shopping malls to hand out fliers, and Mr. Overmier goes door to door. "I'm not an attorney, I'm not wealthy. I'm definitely a middle-class guy who knows the needs of the middle class," Mr. Overmier said. "If I could get to every resident, I'm sure I'd win."
All three candidates know that to be elected, they will have to address two key issues: preserving South County's rural setting and increasing control of the district's several rubble landfills.
"South County is the little green emerald sitting by itself surrounded by a lot of pressure. Annapolis is coming down, Calvert County is coming up and Prince George's County is coming over," Mr. Klocko said.
South County needs what he calls "consolidated growth plans" that would concentrate development in the population centers of Crofton, the Mayo peninsula and Deale/Shady Side, leaving the rest as rural as possible.
Ms. Potter agrees, calling the idea "clustered development," and says she believes the county's Department of Planning and Code Enforcement should be prohibited from granting so many variances to zoning laws that permit development in rural areas. "They either ought to stop granting them or change the law," she said. "Especially in South County. This is one of the last green areas left in the county."
Rubble landfills continue to be a sore subject with South County residents. Ms. Clagett wrote a bill last year regulating rubble landfills, which accept construction waste from as far away as New Jersey, but the consensus seems to be that more needs to be done.
Mr. Overmier advocates hiring a full-time landfill inspector whose job it would be to ensure that no hazardous waste or other illegal materials are being dumped. Additionally, he says landfill owners should be required to install liners, which are required in sanitary landfills, to prevent ground water contamination,
Ms. Potter would like to see the landfills abolished. "Rubble doesn't belong in a flood plain," she said. Barring that, she would like to see some kind of fee instituted that would charge out-of-state haulers for bringing their rubble to Anne Arundel County. "Make it economically unfeasible," she said.
Mr. Klocko says he believes he has hit on an idea that would concentrate the landfills in an appropriate area and might have an advantageous economic benefit to the county as well. He would create fills out of the abandoned gravel pits west of Route 3 in Crofton, site of a proposed Route 3 bypass.