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The 2014 race for Charles County delegate was shaping up last winter to be a real bore, with the three incumbents presumably set on running for re-election in a Democratic county and without any serious intra-party challenge.

But then Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) decided in late January to instead run for county commissioners’ president, creating an open seat on and, ultimately, a five-way primary for the three-member District 28 delegation.

The primary election is June 24. Early voting began Thursday and will last a week.

Current commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly was the first to toss her hat in the ring, announcing concurrently with Murphy’s decision that she would run for delegate.

Many political observers in the county believe the apparent switcheroo was coordinated between Murphy and Kelly, who are seen as political allies. Both candidates denied any collusion.

Kelly had previously stated that she did not intend on running for election in 2014 and was instead planning on furthering her education.

Regardless, Murphy’s decision threw the District 28 race into flux, and saddled incumbent Dels. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) and C.T. Wilson (D-Wilson) with more uncertainty than they’d hoped for heading into election season.

Port Tobacco resident and Waldorf real estate agent John Coller registered his candidacy one day after Kelly, and former Commissioner Edith J. Patterson — who lost a close primary to Kelly in the 2010 election — filed a few weeks later to round out the Democratic race.

In the months since, all five candidates have concluded that the race is a true free-for-all, with no guarantee that Jameson or Wilson win re-election.

“I may have some bit of an advantage since I have some name recognition, but I think a lot of the other candidates have name recognition, too, so I would never feel comfortable in thinking that all the new candidates are running for the open seat,” Jameson said. “I think we all have to get out there and do our best, because it can all change very quickly.”

Wilson said his time in Annapolis is eclipsed by the time spent in public office by both Kelly and Patterson, and the voters he’s spoken to while campaigning seem to know about their commissioners, more than the delegates anyway.

“There are two well-known, former county commissioners that are running, so name recognition might be an issue, so I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said.

But Wilson also expressed confidence in his record as a delegate, and said his primary fear is that the primary’s turnout will be low after being moved up to June from its traditional date in September.

“I truly believe that if the citizens come out to vote, I will be OK,” he said.

Kelly said she has been unable to devote as much time to campaigning as she has in past races because of her duties as commissioners’ president.

“I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough,” she said. “It does worry me because of that early primary and the difference in the race, [but] I worry about every race. I take these very seriously, and I know you’re asking people to put their trust in you.”

Patterson said the number of new residents in the county has diminished her level of name recognition, so she has been busy meeting voters at commuter park-and-ride lots and going door to door.

“Honestly, incumbents have an advantage because they have a voting record, and they’ve been established in Annapolis, but I’m going to respect the voters. I’m just seeking one seat,” Patterson said. “It’s been a pretty positive campaign, and I hope it remains that way because at the end of the day we all have to work together to make a better Maryland and Charles County.”

Coller called Jameson and Wilson “very well loved in the county” but said, “I think it’s up for grabs” after talking to supporters of all the candidates.

“Because I really had a come-from-behind race for name recognition,” Coller said he focused on getting his name out by flooding the county with campaign signs with him wearing boxing gloves and ready to do battle on the county’s behalf, which served as an “ice breaker” when he later started going door to door.

“Pretty much all the people I’ve talked to who have run successful races around the state and locally have said you need to knock on doors, shake hands and meet people,” Coller said. “After the signs it makes it kind of easy, it’s kind of an ice breaker, so that I’m not just some guy showing up at their door.”

Republican Jim Crawford is also running for District 28 delegate. He does not have a primary opponent.

Following the state’s 2012 redistricting process, a sliver of northern Charles will fall in District 27A following the election.

Incumbent Del. James E. Proctor Jr. (D-Prince George’s, Calvert) is running for re-election without a Democratic challenger.

Republican Joe Crawford is the lone GOP candidate to have filed for District 27A.

jnewman@somdnews.com