Many of the 10 candidates running for three House of Delegates' seats in Harford County's District 34 are speaking kindly of each other -- at least for now.
"For the most part, you've got real legitimate candidates," says Nancy Jacobs, a businesswoman and one of four Republican candidates. She has served as a volunteer lobbyist in Annapolis with distinctly conservative views on such things as abortion and sex education in public schools.
Six Democrats, including two incumbents, also are on Tuesday's primary election ballot.
But after the primary, when voters will choose three Democrats and three Republicans for November's general election ballot, battle lines will be drawn over state spending, taxation, gun control, abortion and other issues.
The two incumbents -- Democrats Rose Mary Hatem Bonsack and Mary Louise Preis -- say they are confident but are not taking voters' continued support for granted. They say they are running on their accomplishments in the fields of health care and the law, respectively.
"I just keep working," says Mrs. Preis, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. "From my perspective, I've just tried to lay out what I've done," she says of her work on domestic violence, business law and school funding, among other things.
"I feel voters are smart enough to know who's done the work," says Dr. Bonsack, the only physician in the House and a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, which works on health care legislation.
She says she has gained the stature of a gatekeeper on health care debates involving accessibility, nursing care for senior citizens, and alcohol and drug treatment.
But even the incumbents' Democratic allies know that the time to play hardball will come.
"It's an open race for three seats," says Gunther Hirsch, mayor of Havre de Grace for the past six years and a retired physician.
"Just because you are an incumbent, you are not guaranteed a seat anymore," says Dr. Hirsch, a Democrat who says he, too, can offer leadership on health care.
The third House seat in the 34th has been held by Republican David R. Craig, who is pursuing the district's one senate seat held by Democrat Habern W. Freeman Jr., a former county executive.
District 34 is a varied one, covering most of Harford's residential centers along the U.S. 40 and Route 24 corridors and all of its incorporated towns and cities: Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace. It also includes Aberdeen Proving Ground, a 72,000-acre Army weapons-testing and research installation that is undergoing an environmental cleanup expected to cost at least $1 billion.
Mrs. Preis and Dr. Bonsack have raised $39,000 and $22,000 respectively, far more than any other candidates. Both have garnered heavy support from a variety of political action committees.
The other front-runners -- Mrs. Jacobs, Dr. Hirsch, and Democrat B. Daniel Riley, a middle school teacher and environmental activist -- also are running aggressive campaigns.
Mr. Riley has waged two unsuccessful campaigns for a District 34 seat. Mr. Riley, a member of a citizens' advisory commission that is studying the disposal of the proving ground's obsolete stockpile of mustard agent, also helped form a group dedicated to improving the Edgewood community.
Dr. Hirsch says he is banking on voters throughout the district remembering him for his 35-year medical practice.
After the primary, Mr. Riley says, Mrs. Jacobs will be the "most formidable" candidate for the Democrats.
With so many primary election candidates, Republican Scott Williams says, "The bigger battle is going to be in the general election."
Like Mrs. Jacobs, Mr. Williams, a computer engineer and gubernatorial candidate Ellen Sauerbrey's Harford coordinator, has strong religious convictions that shape his political platform.
"The Lord opened some doors for me to get involved," he says. "That's one of the big motivators for me in the campaign."
He says several issues -- abortion, gun control and education -- will heat up after the primary.
Advocates for gun owners, including Mr. Williams, say they will confront Mrs. Preis about her support this year of legislation that banned 15 assault pistols.
Four additional candidates -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- are running low-profile campaigns.
The Democrats are Sean Patrick Carven, a fledgling attorney who wants to rein in state spending, and John R. Gaughan, a businessman and environmental engineer with a strong interest
The remaining Republicans are L. Michael Schaech, a defense attorney who is focusing on growth management and crime, and Kenneth A. Thompson, an Aberdeen motel owner who says he wants to reform the runaway taxation and spending fostered by "political pirates" who are in the legislature.
All the candidates are talking about welfare reform, controlling subsidized housing and other issues that are stirring voters throughout Maryland.
But for now, the District 34 candidates aren't talking much to each other.
Come Wednesday, they will be forced to face each other, rather than extending niceties as if they were at a crowded cocktail party.