In the race for Anne Arundel County’s next executive, the gloves came off a long time ago.
County Executive Laura Neuman said last week she’s been subject to personal attacks since she decided to run for a full term of her own after being appointed to the position last year.
She maintains her campaign has only critiqued the voting record of her opponent in the Republican primary, Del. Steve Schuh.
“We said we were not going to do any personal attacks, and we have stuck by that,” said Neuman, now running for a full term of her own.
Schuh, who has served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates, sees things differently.
He says Neuman is distorting his record to make him seem like “Barack Obama, Martin O’Malley and Al Capone all rolled into one,” Schuh said.
“I think she’s gone over a line that has never been crossed before in a Republican primary in Anne Arundel County,” he said.
It’s been eight years since Anne Arundel County’s last contested Republican primary, which pitted eventual winner John R. Leopold against four others. The winner of the June 24 primary will face Democrat George Johnson, a former county sheriff, in the fall.
“I don’t think it was anywhere near this bad, but I don’t think there was anywhere near the amount of money being spent,” said Nathan Volke, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County. “That makes the difference. They have the money to get their message out.”
The Citizens to Elect Steve Schuh has $516,847.09 in its war chest, according to campaign finance reports filed last week. The Friends of Laura Neuman Volkman has $244,919.68, though she reported contributions of $162,100 in the most recent fundraising period. That’s compared to the $35,530.73 Schuh raised during the same period.
The Anne Arundel executive’s race also has statewide significance for the GOP, Volke said. If a Republican can be elected county executive in left-leaning Maryland’s fourth-largest county, that sends a powerful message, Volke said.
“From a Republican Party standpoint, Anne Arundel County is the most important county in the state,” Volke said.
Dan Nataf, a professor of political science at Anne Arundel Community College and director of its Center for the Study of Local Issues, said the unusual narrative that led up to the election may also play a role.
Schuh had been eyeing the county executive’s seat well before Leopold resigned after being convicted of official misconduct. Neuman, a businesswoman who previously ran the Howard County Economic Development Authority, was a surprise pick when she applied for the vacancy in February 2013.
The Anne Arundel County Council picked Neuman over 16 other applicants, including Schuh.
“Both are positioned well in terms of their financial support and leadership qualities,” Nataf said.
The sniping between the two candidates has heated up in the last few weeks..
Schuh has used social media to go after Neuman. Last week, he posted a series of updates on his campaign’s official Facebook account, questioning Neuman’s claims that she grew up in a poor family and accusing her of spreading “outright falsehoods” about his past votes.
Around the same time, Neuman’s campaign sent out a release calling into question Schuh’s list of endorsements.
“Steve Schuh has bragged for months that he has the endorsement of over 100 Republican leaders, a list that includes his paid campaign staff and advisors,” the release read.
Neuman’s campaign reached out to those who endorsed Schuh, encouraging them to reconsider their support.
The candidates have also traded barbs over who’s a better Republican.
Neuman has repeatedly slammed Schuh for voting for a state bill in 2012 that forced Maryland’s 10 largest jurisdictions to adopt a stormwater management fee, commonly dubbed the rain tax by critics. Schuh has acknowledged his support for the state bill but criticized the one levied by the Anne Arundel County Council, saying it’s too high.
She also criticized him for co-sponsoring a 2008 bill with Del. Heather Mizeur, who’s now seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. The bill would have required Marylanders to buy health insurance or face a $1,000 tax penalty. At a recent debate, Schuh said that was a mistake.
In April, former Gov. Robert Ehrlich sent out a letter to county voters asking them to endorse Schuh over Neuman. He applauded Schuh’s eight years in the General Assembly, membership in GOP clubs and participation in more than a dozen Republican campaigns.
Schuh has checked off all the typical boxes in his bid for county executive, Nataf said. And the GOP establishment may be reluctant to go against that.
“He is the one who did it the way he was supposed to,” Nataf said. “What does that say for anyone else who wants
to run for office? What other boxes are you supposed to check?”
Anne Arundel Council Chairman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, recently decided to endorse Neuman because she hadn’t checked off all those boxes.
Grasso, the third Republican running for county executive before he bowed out last year, said he likes both Schuh and Neuman. But Neuman doesn’t have “political baggage,” Grasso said.
“If you want to be a political person, just do what Steve did,” Grasso said. “Join the committees, join the clubs. But that’s how all the members of Congress did it, and people don’t seem to be too happy with them.”
Volke said he worries campaign mudslinging could damage the party as a whole going into the general election.
But at this point, he’s still optimistic.
“I don’t think it’s gotten to the point where (Neuman and Schuh) won’t talk to each other,” said Volke, a Schuh supporter who said he still plans to endorse Neuman if she wins. “From my understanding, whoever loses the Republican primary will support the other. If not, I’m going to be disappointed.”