Ted Sophocleus' election day resembled a cross between a Care Bears picnic and a Tammany Hall meeting.
The Democratic candidate for county executive made the rounds of voting places, greeting old friends, shaking hands and jokingly promising rides in his white Cadillac -- if he won.
Happy people were everywhere. Campaign supporters, mostly elderly men in flannel shirts and windbreakers, jounced black and gold signs and all but hugged their candidate.
"That man has a heart bigger than the body he's in," said Sophocleus' driver, Karl Reiser. "Young, old, middle-aged, it don't make a bit of difference. He's just good to people."
Alvin C. Crisp Jr., a retired electrical foreman at Bethlehem Steel, shivered in the cold as he handed out campaign literature at Northeast High School. "He don't cut anybody off," he said. "When he talks to you, he talks to you. He's not a big shot."
The candidate, decked out in a gray herringbone blazer and a fancy silk tie, stopped to talk to a father and son in front of the Riviera Beach Elementary School.
The child was wailing his lungs out. "He's cryin' cuz he can't vote for Ted Sophocleus," joked a supporter.
If so, the little boy didn't seem to have much company. Democratic voters -- who, according to exit polls, were beating a steady path to the voting booths all day -- flashed thumbs-up signs at the candidate and hollered encouragement from car windows.
True to form, Sophocleus' visits drew people comfortable with his ethnic North County roots: union men, steel workers, housewives and just plain folks.
Antoinette Cosentino, 78, was at the Riviera Beach Elementary School by 10 a.m. to vote for Sophocleus.
"Her husband Salvatore was a great union man," a supporter told the candidate.
"My husband was a Teamster, and he died 10 years tomorrow, but he always voted Democrat and he always got me out to vote," Cosentino said. "I'll do the same till the day I die."
"Well, you're keeping the tradition up," encouraged Sophocleus.
At Lake Shore Elementary, Sophocleus shook hands with a truck driver who drove up to cast his vote. "I hope you win, 'cause we're planning a long party tonight!" said the fellow.
Sophocleus chuckled. "I hope (the celebrating) goes on all night -- that's all right with me!" he said.
Sophocleus, 51, spent the morning touring the northern half of the county in his white Caddy, stopping to offer encouragement and thanks to his workers. All his workers are volunteers, he said proudly. He checked exit polls and waved stuffed bears. He had a good time.
"This is a great day! Is this a great day or what? Five young people, that's great! That's what it's all about," he enthused, as young men stuffed in a small car waved at him on their way to vote in Solley.
When workers reported that one Neall supporter drove by without bothering to give them a thumbs-down sign, Sophocleus chortled. "He doesn't know; we might attack him," he jested.
One young campaign worker sported a bear costume she'd made herself.
"How you doin', Mr. Ted?" she asked, hugging him.
"You can't thank the workers enough, they're so enthusiastic and happy," said Sophocleus. "They've all worked hard, and that's all you can ask."
Though Republican Robert R. Neall, 42, was considered unbeatable by many in the early stages of the campaign, Sophocleus has gained name recognition and popularity and was leading in the polls at election time.
Mary Brandenburg, who scheduled Neall's campaign, said the candidate planned a private day and declined the company of an Anne Arundel Sun reporter yesterday.
Sophocleus, however, spent the day among his people. He and his wife, Alice, began the day with breakfast "at the same restaurant, with the same people" as on primary election day, he said.
At Terry's Place in Brooklyn Park, Sophocleus downed two eggs, over easy, and bacon. Just like always. From there, the couple headed for North County High, up the street from their home, to vote.
She tugged at his arm when he started in the door marked "Exit ONLY," murmuring, "You can't go in there!"
Sophocleus spent the rest of the morning touring the northern half of the county, spreading jokes and good cheer. "God bless you -- see you all tonight!" he said.
At Riviera Beach Elementary, he joked with campaign worker Carl Szuba.
"I was in Hawaii, and I hear somebody yell, 'Hey, Greek!' " said Sophocleus. "It's Carl, with 150 Polacks there for a Polka party!"
At Jacobsville Elementary, Ellis Sobiski teased Sophocleus about his size. "All the doughnuts they've been bringing us, we're all going to look like teddy bears," she said. "But it's worth it: That Teddy Bear is a good friend of ours for years."
Sophocleus met a television crew for lunch at the Horn and Horn smorgasbord on Route 2. In the afternoon he headed to Annapolis, where voter turnout was reported to be extremely heavy.
"I'm glad to see a lot of people voting," he said. "A light turnout is bad. Whether I win or lose, I want to do it big!"
Lou Frazetti, who has run a barbershop on Fort Smallwood Road for 37 years, summed up his election day sentiments with a big smile.
"He'd better win, or he'll have to head down to the welfare," he said.
"But hey, he could always cut hair!"