- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

BALTIMORE (AP) – Election officials say less than 10 percent of eligible voters have cast ballots in the first eight hours of voting in Baltimore’s primary election.

Observers say Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has a lead in the Democratic mayoral primary. But challengers say they can oust her on Tuesday if enough supporters make it to voting booths.

Election Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. says about 30,800 people had cast ballots by 3 p.m., and total turnout could be about 20 percent.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake’s challengers are state Sen. Catherine Pugh; former city planning director and mayoral chief of staff Otis Rolley, former City Council member Jody Landers, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway and nurse Wilton Wilson.

Republicans Vicki Ann Harding and Alfred Griffin are competing to challenge the Democratic primary winner in the Dec. 8 general election.

However, the Democratic winner will almost certainly win the general election because the city his heavily Democratic.

The city hasn’t had a Republican mayor since Theodore R. McKeldin left office in 1967.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake is running on the record she has built since her predecessor stepped down amid scandal last year, aiming to win the seat in her own right. Observers note that she appears to have a significant lead, but her challengers say they can turn out enough supporters at polling stations to oust her.

“I voted for Stephanie because I’m more familiar with her,” said Florence D. Hope, 59, a registered Democrat who is active in her community association. Ms. Rawlings-Blake has been responsive to her community’s concerns about absentee landowners, she said. “The other folks just popped up around election time. How can I vote for someone when I don’t know them?”

No problems have been reported at polls. About 7,800 voters, roughly 2.4 percent of the city’s eligible voters, had already cast ballots in the first municipal election featuring early voting, according to the state election board.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake, the daughter of a popular state delegate, worked as a public defender and in 1995 became the youngest person elected to the City Council. She was 25.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake became Council president in 2007 and mayor last year when Democrat Sheila Dixon resigned after an embezzlement conviction and separate plea for lying about gifts from her developer ex-boyfriend.

Lutalo Bakari, 46, a registered Democrat who works as a social worker and track coach with city schools, said he voted for Ms. Rawlings-Blake because he likes what he has seen from her since she became mayor.

“Considering what she inherited, I think she’s done a tremendous job,” he said. “She’s doing the work that’s needed.”

But he didn’t hear anything he liked from her challengers and thought they focused on issues such as lowering property taxes.

“They made no case at all,” Mr, Bakari said.

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