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By JEFF NEWMAN

Staff writer

Harford County Executive David R. Craig was the guest of honor Friday at the Charles County Republican Central Committee’s monthly mixer at Mexico Restaurant in White Plains, the committee’s second consecutive fundraiser headlined by a 2014 gubernatorial candidate.

A career educator who spent 34 years in the Harford County school system as a teacher and middle school vice principal before retiring in 2005, when he was appointed county executive, Craig (R) had little trouble enunciating his platform for the roughly 25 local Republicans who attended the mixer.

“I’ll try to use my vice principal voice,” he said.

Craig, 64, became the first Republican to enter the gubernatorial race when he announced his candidacy in late May. Del. Ron George (R-Anne Arundel) officially kicked off his campaign a week later — a month after announcing his intentions to run — and spoke at the central committee’s June 21 mixer at Port Tobacco Restaurant.

Craig first attained public office in 1979, when he won election to a Havre de Grace city council seat. He was twice elected the city’s mayor, in 1985 and 1987, before spending eight years in the statehouse as both a delegate and senator, from 1991 to 1999.

He was re-elected mayor in 2001 and again in 2003, resigning in 2005 upon his appointment as county executive, a post to which he’s since been elected twice.

The father of three children, Craig said he first entered public life because he “wanted to make Havre de Grace a good place for them to live and grow up in,” adding that his experience as a public school vice principal served as an ideal prep course.

“It’s the best thing to get you ready for politics because most politicians’ egos are like middle school students,” he cracked.

Craig’s running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Lower Shore), also attended the mixer and said that Craig’s executive experience made him an ideal choice for governor.

Craig railed against Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the state’s Democratic establishment, which he said has raised or created more than 40 taxes since 2006 that will have cost state taxpayers more than $120 billion by 2018.

“We have a monopoly in the state of Maryland in Annapolis that is trying to take everything they can away from you,” he said.

Winning Charles County, where Democrats hold more than a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, in 2014 will be a tall order for Craig or any GOP candidate.

In order to counter local Democrats, many of whom run unified re-election campaigns, the GOP committee is considering whether to recruit candidates who fit a specific platform and run them under a collective ticket, central committee Chairman Kirk Bowie said.

Craig discounted those who claim that Democrats hold a similar 2-to-1 advantage statewide, stating that polling shows that liberals, conservatives, independents and those who simply choose the best candidate each make up a quarter of Maryland voters. As of last month, more than 2 million state residents had registered to vote as Democrats, while fewer than 960,000 were registered Republican, according to state data.

Craig cited the millionaire’s tax — added income taxes for high-income residents — specifically as one that he would cut if elected governor, saying the tax is driving rich residents out of the state.

“There are three people who do not want to see me as governor and Jeannie as lieutenant governor — the governors of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia,” Craig said. “We’re being outflanked at all times by these three states.”

As for other taxes, Craig said he would immediately do away with the “rain tax” — stormwater fees recently implemented in the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions, including Charles County — but preached “caution” with eliminating other revenue that already is dedicated to existing programs.

Craig fielded questions following his remarks, and was asked several times about how he would improve outreach to “low information voters.” He said that a unified message and boosting Republican turnout were the keys to success in 2014, adding that he would rather a supporter bring 10 voters with him to the polls than make a campaign donation.

In response to a voter who said “windmills are not the answer” to the state’s energy needs, Craig said he was a supporter of nuclear energy, and became the rare Republican to invoke France as a model to emulate.

“Eighty percent of the energy in France is nuclear power. Are we that much smarter than them?” he asked. “The best thing for a windmill would be to put it on a politician’s mouth, and the heat would create a whole lot of energy.”

jnewman@somdnews.com