WESTMINSTER - Wearing a worn baseball cap with the campaign message "Keep It Country," farmer Louis Pascal seemed to underscore the concerns of many Republicans this primary election.
"Things are changing too fast here in the county," said Pascal, sitting against the backdrop of a nature scene at Frock's Sunnybrook Farm restaurant, where Republicans and Democrats have traditionally gathered on election nights.
This year, though, Republicans met without the Democrats, who chose to part company and meet at the more plush Martin's Westminster catering facility.
"Democrats chose not to be here this year," said Donald Taylor, chairman of the Carroll Republican Central Committee.
"It's the first time in 20 years," observed Reese L. Starner, the long-time register of wills, who ran unopposed in the GOP primary.
Starner, like other Republicans, said he didn't know why the Democrats chose to part company. The answer, Republicans said, rests with Democrats.
Amid talk of voter turnout and politics, some old-timers like Pascal, Starner and Orphans Court Judge Walter T. Haines Jr. talked about the changing character of the still largely rural county.
Although Starner and Haines kept mum on their choices for County Commissioner nominations, the 72-year-old Pascal didn't. He voted for Donald I. Dell.
"(Dell) was born here. He's a farmer. He makes a lot of common sense, and as a volunteer I wanted to help him all I could," said Pascal, who grows Christmas trees and some crops on his Westminster farm.
The unusually low voter turnout -- 31.5 percent overall -- almost appeared to have a grip on the festivities at Frock's, where only about two dozen campaign workers and a few candidates had gathered about the time the polls closed at 8 p.m..
"It's very quiet here. I'm surprised there's not more people," said Starner, who spent most of the evening handing out brochures on the "Administration of Estates in Maryland."
"This room is usually pretty full by 9 o'clock," added Haines, who also is seeking re-election but had no opposition in the GOP primary.
Haines, though, promised to kick off a low-key campaign the day after the primary by getting "in touch with the people I know."
A steady crowd began swarming into Frock's shortly after the venerable pair made their observations. Even without the Democrats, the GOP kept the handful of workers behind the cash bar and snack table amply busy.
"There sure aren't as many people here, but I have seen quite a few Democrats coming and going," said one server, who declined to give her name.
Throughout the evening, speculation from most candidates and their campaign workers was optimistic but cautious.
"We're not taking anything for granted," said Jill Gebhart, who campaigned vigorously for her mother, incumbent Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "The turnout was light. We just don't know how things are going to turn out."
Indeed. Many Republicans held similar views, including Taylor, who lost in his re-election bid for the Central Committee.
"I put an open letter in the paper and asked Republicans to make their choice. They made their choice," said Taylor, who ruled out seeking office again.
Although primaries generally attract fewer voters than general elections, many candidates and campaign workers were surprised by the unusually low turnout.
"It depends on what people get galvanized about," Taylor said. "I heard a lot of questions about who people should vote for, particularly in the commissioners race."
He said he expected a larger turnout because of the state Senate District 5 race. The results, though, weren't a surprise for Taylor, who said pre-election polls had Larry E. Haines leading incumbent Sen. Sharon W. Hornberger.
Some, like Gouge, speculated that the large field of candidates kept voters away from the polls.
"There were so many people running that people didn't know who to choose from," she said.
But both 19-year-old Alex Gregory and 18-year-old Matt Roche of Westminster exercised their right to vote, casting their first ballots.
"I don't like politicians," said Gregory, a sophomore at Princeton University. "But Sharon (Hornberger) is a politician who is not a politician."
But for Roche, a computer programmer who plans to attend Carroll Community College, Haines best represented his political views.
"I know him personally. He has the same likes as me," said Roche, who served as the youth coordinator for the Haines campaign.