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Prince Georgeís County cannot be ignored this election season

There was a time when Prince Georgeís County voters were considered predictable. Those days appear to be over.

In the past, campaign strategists generally anticipated the county — home to some of the largest mega-churches in the region and where nearly 80 percent of registered voters are Democrats — would simply vote along party lines or largely on religious beliefs.

However, questions that will appear on the ballot this November are showing the rest of the state that Prince Georgeís is not monolithic in its voting. The county is made up of a diverse population of different income levels and varied beliefs — and can no longer be taken for granted.

For example, Question 6 on the ballot, regarding whether to allow same-sex marriage, would have — in the past — been considered a no-go in Prince Georgeís given the heavy influence of places of worship. Many churches have argued that marriage must be between a man and a woman, and have led the fight against the proposal.

However, according to some polls, voters in support of same-sex marriage appear to be taking a lead statewide, and voters are almost evenly split in the black community, especially since the announced support by President Barack Obama, who received widespread support in the county.

As a matter of fact, a Prince Georgeís pastor, Delman Coates of Clintonís Mount Ennon Baptist Church, which touts a congregation of more than 7,000, is among those leading the push for same-sex marriage. And another Prince Georgeís pastor, Derek McCoy, is leading the fight against it.

Similarly, Question 7, which could allow for a casino in the county, goes against traditional thinking that Prince Georgeís voters would shun a plan that contradicts faith-based morals. Yes, the churches in Prince Georgeís remain busy, but so, too, are Maryland Lottery retailers. About 15 percent of the more than 860,000 residents in Prince Georgeís played the lottery in fiscal 2011, accounting for a little more than 20 percent of sales, according to the Maryland State Lottery Agency.

Clearly, Prince Georgians are not one-dimensional and, for a change, campaigns are going to have to fight to win votes in the county.

Those on both sides of the gambling and same-sex marriage debates acknowledge that Prince Georgeís is one of the main battle grounds in their fights, and they are spending millions in advertising to sway county voters. All are planning intensive educational outreach to ensure voters get as much information as they need. Truly a nice change of pace.

Granted, voters havenít lost all predictability. For political offices, county voters are likely to stick close to party lines, like much of the nation. Many Republicans probably wonít even visit the county, assuming their words will fall on deaf ears.

For Prince Georgeís, however, although the ballot issues remain up for debate, the countyís political standing is no longer in question. Prince Georgeís isnít sitting on the sidelines; itís in the game.