Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, who swept into office four years ago with an overwhelming victory, was trounced last night by Republican Roger B. Hayden, a lesser-known and vastly outspent challenger who capitalized on anger against the incumbent.
Mr. Rasmussen, an Essex Democrat, stepped up to a podium with his wife and two daughters shortly after 10:30 p.m. at the Chesley, an Overlea catering hall, to concede defeat before a crowd of about 100 supporters.
"I've been a very fortunate man over the last 16 years. That 16-year career tonight has come to an end," the 43-year-old Mr. Rasmussen said. "We believe there's no way we're going to be able to recover."
An hour later, Mr. Hayden told a jubilant crowd of about 500 at the Tall Cedars of Lebanon Hall on Harford Road in Parkville that he would need their support to open up the government.
"I said a long time ago the object of our campaign was to take government back to the people and we're going to do it," he said.
Final figures from the Baltimore County Board of Elections last night showed Mr. Hayden beat Mr. Rasmussen by garnering 62 percent of the vote to Mr. Rasmussen's 38 percent, and will be the second Republican executive in the county's history. The first was Spiro T. Agnew in 1962.
Election officials said county voters turned out in large numbers yesterday, with lines forming at many polling places shortly after polls opened at 7 a.m. and remaining in some places up to an hour after the scheduled 8 p.m. closing time.
Mr. Rasmussen, who swept into the executive's post in 1986 with 82 percent of the vote, blamed the loss on an anti-incumbent mood that swept the country.
"It's unfortunate that many voters have decided to vote on emotion," he said.
Mr. Hayden, 45, of Baldwin entered the race largely unknown despite 12 years on the county school board. He won not because of his own programs or achievements, but because of criticism of Mr. Rasmussen, which reached a crescendo in the final weeks of the campaign.
Mr. Rasmussen had the advantages of a countywide network of supporters and a war chest that topped $1 million -- 10 times his opponent's. But he became the target of criticism that often seemed ironic.
A man whose theme was "Closest to the People," Mr. Rasmussen was accused of being aloof, staying ensconced in his office when he should have been out in the community.
The son of a county employee from blue-collar Essex, Mr. Rasmussen drew hostility for wearing personally monogrammed shirts and driving a county-owned Lincoln Town Car.
During his term, Mr. Rasmussen was besieged on one hand by taxpayer groups anxious for cuts in their tax bills and on the other by county workers crying for pay increases.
He raised the property tax rate over four years by 4.5 cents to $2.895 for each $100 of assessed value.
As county executive, he also took risks that may have been political blunders.
Facing a tight budget, he denied full cost-of-living pay increases in an election year to 20,000 county teachers and government workers. He also instituted a yearlong tax on beverage containers that cost him with the beverage industry and many beer drinkers.
Mr. Rasmussen's most formidable foes, however, were tax protesters.
He was the first Maryland executive to push through a 4 percent cap on increases in property assessments. And he pledged to keep lobbying to reduce reliance on the property tax.
But it was not enough for the tax rebels, who branded him "Taxmussen."
Mr. Rasmussen said such labels wouldn't hurt, but the image stuck with many voters.
"He's a do-nothing executive," said William Harrison, 73, who voted at Randallstown Senior High School.