Minutes before Gov. William Donald Schaefer stepped onto the stage at a Baltimore school auditorium to claim victory in Tuesday's primary, his supporters were greeted with rousing news.
The statewide numbers were incomplete, noted Schaefer campaign manager Jim Smith, but in his home turf of Baltimore City the governor so far held 92 percent of the votes over challenger Frederick M. Griisser Jr.
The crowd cheered. But a member of the Schaefer administration gasped.
"Ninety-two to 8," the individual whispered in half-jest. "That's not enough. We need 100 percent. The governor's going to kill us."
When the night's tallies were complete, Schaefer's margin of victory across the state had dropped to below 80 percent of the 433,997 votes cast in one of the lowest primary election turnouts in recent history.
"I expected him to do well," Schaefer later said of Griisser, a 36-year-old real estate agent unknown to most voters aside from his unsuccessful role in challenging the state's gun laws two years ago.
Throughout the primary campaign, Schaefer has denied that he is seeking a mandate from the voters to give him a second and final four-year term as governor. But all along aides privately conceded that the governor would be less than pleased if he does not win by a landslide.
Last night, as he stood on stage with hands in pockets, a low-key Schaefer thanked his supporters and pledged that with a win in the November general election Marylanders would see "a new administration, new thoughts, new ideas, new approached to people."
Afterward, Schaefer blamed Griisser's showing on voters dissatisfied with his stance on gun control and non-tidal wetlands.
"People . . . let me know in no uncertain terms they were not for my positions on that and were not going to vote for me," Schaefer said shortly before his celebration party of about 150 staff, administration and campaign members ended last night at the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Meanwhile, down at the Rockville campaign headquarters of Republican gubernatorial primary victor William S. Shepard, jubilant supporters were eyeing Griisser's votes as potential weapons against the incumbent.
"Most of those were protest votes against Schaefer," Shepard said.
Shepard, who narrowly defeated perennial candidate Ross Pierpont in the GOP race, said he and wife/running mate Lois Shepard will renew their challenges for debates with Schaefer and Lt. Governor Melvin A. Steinberg.
"Now we're going to have a slam-bang general election and Governor Schaefer will not be able to duck it," William Shepard said.
Steinberg has said he would debate Lois Shepard if she won her primary race. The governor, however, has shown no willingness to meet William Shepard in a face-to-face confrontation.
William Shepard said today's campaigning will be limited mostly to saying thanks to his stronghold of supporters in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington. After that, he said, the Shepard-Shepard team will continue their motor trek across the state in an effort to raise more votes and money.
Shepard, whose choice of a running mate was initially greeted by jeers even among his early Republican supporters, said he believes his wife will not be a liability in the general election.
The Schaefer-Steinberg campaign is scheduled to continue its push to enlist volunteers for education, environment and anti-drug civic programs. So far, about 5,000 volunteers have offered to participate in the projects, according to Schaefer campaign spokeswoman Ricki Baker.
Campaign chairman Smith said last night Schaefer and Steinberg will spend the remaining weeks before the general election discussing issues in greater detail and that voters should expect the governor to issue several position papers