His own political consultants told him he couldn't win.
But incumbent Democrat Philip C. Jimeno swept aside his heavily favored opponent at the polls Tuesday to retain his District 31 Senate seat.
Two months ago, Jimeno's own public opinion polls showed him trailing Republican John R. Leopold -- a two-term state delegate and savvy campaigner -- by 27 percentage points. His Columbia-based political consultant told him victory was impossible.
"That was the most depressing day of my life," said Jimeno, who popped the champagne cork and broke out the cigars early Tuesday night at his Orchard Beach campaign headquarters. "I can't believe this. I didn't even prepare an acceptance speech."
Although an anti-incumbent mood prevailed in many county races, all 15 of Anne Arundel's incumbent state lawmakers -- including Jimeno -- won re-election.
Voters elected three new faces to fill vacant seats in the House of Delegates. Republican Aris T. Allen won a vacant seat in the District 30 delegate race, placing a surprisingly strong second to incumbent Democrat John Astle. Incumbent Democrat Michael Busch won the third District 30 seat.
Democrat Joan Cadden, a former school board member, captured the District 31 delegate seat vacated by Leopold. Incumbent Democrats W. Ray Huff and Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski retained their seats.
In District 32, Democrat Victor Sulin, the Glen Burnie Urban Renewal director, as well as incumbent Democrats Tyras S. "Bunk" Athey and Patrick C. Scannello were unopposed Tuesday.
Republican incumbents Elizabeth S. Smith and John Gary and Democratic incumbent Marsha G. Perry banded together in District 33 to retain their delegate seats.
Jimeno made his re-election look easier than it was supposed to be, defeating Leopold 16,343 to 12,701.
Leopold had campaigned for two years for county executive before deciding in June that he couldn't defeat Robert Neall in the Republican primary. At that point, Leopold enjoyed enormous name recognition for a State House candidate and had a $163,000 campaign war chest, unprecedented in District 31.
To counter Leopold's advantages, a parade of Democratic officials -- including Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- stumped through the district, which stretches from Brooklyn Park to Severna Park, promoting Jimeno. By election day, most political observers said the race was too close to call.
"We sent a message that you can't come into the 31st district and buy a Senate seat," Jimeno told cheering well-wishers at the Stoney Creek Democratic Club.
Leopold said, "It's mind-boggling. Right before the figures were announced, I was very, very confident. It just doesn't jibe with the voter reaction I've been getting the last couple of weeks.
"The only explanation is that the 11th-hour barrage of dirty campaigning by my opponent must have had an impact on the voters," Leopold said, charging that Jimeno distorted his General Assembly attendance record in radio, cable TV and direct mail advertisements.
Jimeno, who has been criticized for his low profile outside his Brooklyn Park neighborhood, won all but six of 31 precincts in Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Lake Shore and Severna Park.
Democrats throughout the county celebrated Jimeno's victory over Leopold, predicting the loser would leave the state in search of new political stomping grounds. A member of the Hawaii legislature for eight years, Leopold left the islands in 1981 after losing a 1978 gubernatorial contest and a 1980 Senate bid.
"To get rid of (Leopold), to pack his bags and send him off some place else gives me the biggest thrill of all," said Huff, who shared an Annapolis office with the Republican since 1986. "Leopold getting beat thrills me more than my own re-election."
Leopold said one Jimeno campaign worker even called him at home to offer him assistance packing.
"Clearly, that kind of gloating is uncalled for," Leopold said. "To me, it's indicative of their campaign."
Leopold, a Philadelphia native recently appointed by President George Bush to a federal commission on the disabled, said he has no plans to leave Pasadena.
"I'll be here," he said. "This is going to be my home. I'll miss the legislative process and the ability to assist my constituents, so I hope to be back in the political arena soon."
A full-time legislator, Leopold, 47, said his first concern is finding a job.
In District 30, Aris Allen won 10 of 39 precincts in Lower Broadneck, Annapolis and Harwood.
"Victory was sweet," said Allen, a retired medical doctor and former two-term delegate. "We put everything into it and I think that was reflected. Now, I have an obligation to justify the trust the voters have put in me."
In District 33, the incumbents were in a dog-fight with Democrat Bill Burlison, a former U.S. Representative from Missouri, who had spent about $50,000 of his own money on the campaign. In an unusual move, Republican Sen. John Cade, who was unopposed, sent letters to every voter encouraging them to vote for Marsha Perry as well as the GOP ticket.
"It was not easy knowing Burlison was out there spending that kind of money on billboards and direct mail," John Gary said. "I think Marsha Perry probably owes her re-election to Jack Cade."
Sen. Michael J. Wagner, who was unopposed in District 32, said the new faces -- Democrat and Republican -- will only strengthen the county's legislative delegation.
"Dr. Allen and Joan Cadden are people you can work with," Wagner said.
"Leopold was in there trying to make himself look good and embarrass everybody else."