Anne Arundel County Sheriff George F. Johnson held a commanding lead in the Democratic primary for county executive, while three current and former state legislators were battling it out for the Republican nomination, according to early returns.
With about two-thirds of precincts reporting, Johnson led former county recreation and parks director Dennis Callahan by more than a 3-to-2 margin.
A 35-year law enforcement veteran, Johnson, 52, raised more than $1 million in nearly four years of campaigning for the county's top job. Callahan, 65, was making his fourth comeback attempt since losing a re-election bid for Annapolis mayor in 1989.
"We feel very good at this point," Johnson told supporters in a Linthicum restaurant at 10:30 p.m. "The numbers ... indicate good things."
Callahan went to bed without conceding. "I'll be the first to congratulate [Johnson], once we can make sense of the numbers," said Callahan.
On the Republican side, Dels. John R. Leopold and David G. Boschert and former Del. Phillip D. Bissett were locked in a tight three-way race.
Leopold was narrowly leading Bissett and Boschert.
Trailing were Assistant Schools Superintendent Gregory V. Nourse and Baltimore schoolteacher Tom Angelis, a former police officer and county recreation and parks director.
"These totals represent a cross-section of the county, ... and that's a hopeful sign for the campaign," Leopold said.
"We're only half of the way there," countered Bissett spokeswoman Diane Rey, who noted that many votes in South County, where the candidate lives, had not been counted. "We are cautiously optimistic. We are looking to cross the finish line first."
Boschert could not be reached early yesterday morning.
In other races, Democrats and Republicans vied to fill three open seats on the County Council.
In District 6, which represents the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, Annapolis Alderman Joshua J. Cohen was leading fellow Alderman Classie Gillis Hoyle by a 2-1 margin in the Democratic primary. A third Democrat, attorney Philip Dales, was well behind.
The winner will face Republican Rene Swafford, an Annapolis attorney, in the general election.
In District 4, which includes West County areas such as Maryland City, Russett, Odenton and Gambrills, Jamie Benoit was trouncing three other Democrats, but Republicans David Alan Tibbetts and Sid Saab were in a close contest.
The six were seeking the seat being vacated by Councilman Bill D. Burlison, who is term-limited.
In District 1, which includes Jessup, Hanover, Linthicum, Brooklyn Park and Glen Burnie, lawyer Daryl Jones had a more than 3-to-2 lead over civic activist Rik Forgo in the Democratic primary, with more than half of precincts reporting. The winner faces Republican John E. Lindner.
The four Republican incumbents on the County Council - C. Edward Middlebrooks in District 2, Ronald C. Dillon Jr. in District 3, Cathleen M. Vitale in District 5 and Edward R. Reilly in District 7 - advanced in unopposed primaries.
In the GOP sheriff's primary, John E. Moran IV, 42, was leading Wally Campbell, 54, by a more than 2-to-1 margin in the campaign to face Democrat Ronald Bateman, the chief deputy of the county sheriff's office, based on early returns.
The retirement of longtime Register of Wills George M. Nutwell Jr. drew five Republicans and two Democrats to the race.
Early returns showed Democrat Jacqueline B. Allsup and Republican Lauren M. Parker leading.
For clerk of the circuit court, Republican incumbent Robert P. Duckworth held a 5-to-1 lead over challenger Howard Neugebauer III. No Democrat is running for the seat, so the 66-year-old Duckworth will apparently be returning to office.
Johnson has been seeking to succeed Owens since she was re-elected to a second term in 2002. In addition to building a huge war chest, he secured the endorsement of numerous elected Democrats in the county.
Callahan jumped into the campaign in mid-February and has faced an uphill climb. As of Sept. 1, Callahan had raised $86,000. He went on the attack in August, questioning the management of the sheriff's office.
Johnson tried to stay above the fray, campaigning with an eye toward a tough general election race.
The Republican race has been much more up in the air.
Leopold, a five-term delegate who ran for Hawaii governor in 1978, entered the executive race with the deepest pockets. The Pasadena resident lent his campaign $266,000 in addition to raising $182,000.
He said he has knocked on more than 17,000 doors in the past three years.
Bissett, the 2002 party nominee from Mayo who lost to Owens by 4 percentage points, made inroads with a strong grass-roots effort that began last year.
Boschert, a Vietnam veteran, has been an officeholder in Anne Arundel County for 18 years and got into the race relatively late, in November.
The Crownsville businessman mounted a heavy media blitz in recent weeks, including full-page newspaper ads, after lending his campaign $240,email@example.com
Sun reporter Anica Butler contributed to this article.