His bid for a second term in the State House all but snubbed by rural Maryland, Gov. William Donald Schaefer welded his re-election largely upon a newly forged foundation of support from the same people who had ignored him four years ago -- voters in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
While the low turnout in Baltimore yesterday favored the governor 2-to-1, Schaefer's staunchest allies were to be found in suburban Maryland outside Washington, where the two counties gave him a victory margin of about 241,000, enough to keep Republican rival William S. Shepard far at bay throughout election night.
Despite the dark moods he had experienced since recent polls projected that he would not win with a statewide landslide, Schaefer appeared relieved -- even pleased -- as the election returns filtered in to his celebration headquarters last night.
"We've been through some tough ones and this was a tough one, I'll tell you that," Schaefer told hundreds of supporters who had gathered in a hotel ballroom in downtown Baltimore.
"I'm so pleased with our decisive victory," he added.
Without acknowledging the chance that many ballots cast in the governor's race stemmed from anti-Schaefer sentiment, the governor suggested that his margin of victory would have been even greater had voters recognized his achievements over the past four years.
"The early polls showed me something," he said. "It showed we weren't getting our message across. Our successes were being overlooked. All these things, in a way, were taken for the norm, for the granted."
In his remarks to the crowd, Schaefer never mentioned his Republican opponent.
Meanwhile, at his Spartan campaign headquarters in Rockville, Shepard beamed as election returns showed he had done well across the Eastern Shore, in most of Western Maryland and outside Baltimore. When a reporter telephoned to ask if he had issued a concession statement, Shepard raised his dark eyebrows in false surprise.
"I'm not making a concession speech," he told those standing nearby. "I just got elected governor of Caroline County."
But not long afterward, Shepard, joined by Lois, his wife and running mate, thanked a small crowd of well-wishers for their support.
"I claim victory," he told the group, "in the sense that we won a majority of jurisdictions."
Besides taking nearly the entire Eastern Shore and parts of Western Maryland, Shepard handily outpaced Schaefer in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties. The governor captured Harford County by fewer than 2,000 votes.
Shepard said many of his votes came as a protest against the governor's support of anti-gun laws during previous legislative sessions. On hand to support the GOP team last night was Frederick M. Griisser, the pro-gun candidate who opposed Schaefer in the Democratic primary and later endorsed the Republicans.
Shepard, who spent about $103,000 on the race in contrast to the governor's war chest of $2.3 million, joked that he would have made a better showing had his campaign been able to raise more money.
"Maybe if our advertising budget was more than $2,000, we'd have done better," he said. Shepard was unable to afford television advertising, while the governor's commercials were seen across the state.
Shepard said that, while a majority of voters returned the incumbent to office, many others cast ballots as a way of sending Schaefer a message about spending taxpayers' money.
"I think we've done something historic here," said the retired career diplomat. "We are clearly in the post-Schaefer era. The big-spending era is over. We have to begin what I've been saying all along -- prioritize. That has now been forced upon him. I wish him well."
While visibly pleased that they had received 40 percent of the gubernatorial vote, the Shepards nevertheless appeared disconsolate at times. But it had nothing to do with losing the election. Their 7-year-old Siamese cat had been injured by a car in their Potomac neighborhood the night before.
The Shepards, who say they now must look for work, said they may postpone a post-election vacation to Vermont to tend to their injured pet.
A touch of sadness also was evident at the Schaefer victory celebration, where the governor mentioned several people close him who had died in recent years.
"I miss my father. I miss my mother. I miss a friend . . . Irv Kovens. This is the first election I've had where he wasn't here. I miss him," he said, referring to his late friend and political mentor.
But for that brief note, Schaefer supporters made sure the mood at the Omni Hotel last night did not duplicate the less-than-cheery atmosphere at his primary election headquarters, when the governor and running mate Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg received 78 percent of the Democratic vote against Griisser.
Today at a news conference in Annapolis, Schaefer again blamed a lack of recognition of his administration's accomplishments on his poor showing in some areas. He attributed part of the problem to his campaign staff, who, he said, promoted "a theoretical greatness" instead of providing details of what he had done for various regions.
Schaefer said he is planning changes both for administration policies and personnel, but would not elaborate. He also said he will continue to work on ridding bureaucratic red tape and other themes he championed when he first took office four years ago.