Republicans were within reach of a near-sweep of metropolitan county executive posts late last night, an earthquake in Baltimore-area politics that could break decades of Democratic dominance. They rode the anti-incumbent, anti-taxes sentiment to apparent victories in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, with Harford County still a possible GOP pickup.
In Baltimore County, incumbent Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen conceded defeat last night to Republican Roger Hayden, a first-time office-seeker with scant name recognition.
In Howard County, incumbent Executive Elizabeth Bobo was beaten narrowly by Republican Charles Ecker, though absentee ballots may yet change the results.
Anne Arundel County, Republican Robert R. Neall claimed victory over Democrat Theodore Sophocleus for an open seat.
And in Harford County, Republican Geoffrey Close was running narrowly ahead of Democrat Eileen M. Rehrmann for county executive.
Not since the days of Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin in the 1960s has the Republican Party exhibited such strength in Maryland. Combined with Wayne Gilchrest's Republican victory in the First Congressional District, it puts the GOP in position to compete seriously for statewide offices in coming elections.
The heavy turnout was potent evidence that suburban voters are sick and tired of what's been going on in their communities. They voted against rampant growth, high government spending and arrogance of power -- and lots of other things they do not like and probably cannot even define. Yet they also were resisting efforts to impose arbitrary tax caps on county financing in Baltimore and Anne Arundel -- limitations that would hinder those handed top executive responsibility.
This mood of deep dissatisfaction and rebellion puts newly-elected Republicans in a tough spot. On the one hand, voters expect prudence in spending and downsized government. On the other hand, they bought campaign promises of better services. All these raised expectations.
The new county executives -- each dealing with shifts of power on councils (with a number of new Republican faces) and with only limited prospects for aid from Annapolis -- have to face these realities. They face an electorate that has grown ever more insistent on good government and ever more doubtful that the political establishment can provide it. It is a formula for GOP opportunity, if there is proper carry-through.