While the loser in the 5th District state Senate race hammered at his opponent's anti-abortion views and the religion that underlay them, the winner cast the contest in terms of liberal versus conservative.
And victor Larry Haines' interpretation captured what seems to work in Carroll County, which traditionally hands its majority to conservatives.
"Taxes and spending are the big concern right at this time. I think that was the number one issue in the minds of voters," said Haines, the Republican who beat the Democrat, Carroll County Commissioner J. Jeffrey Griffith, 53 percent to 47 percent.
"I still don't know what happened," Griffith said yesterday, although he speculated that his identity as an office-holder ran afoul of the electorate's anti-incumbency mood.
Griffith portrayed himself as the key Senate vote to prevent a replay of the anti-abortion filibuster that succeeded in the last legislative session in Annapolis. He attempted to stigmatize Haines' Christian fundamentalism by calling him a "religious extremist." And he brought in Gov. William Donald Schaefer for several appearances to stress that friendship with the governor would bring home the bacon to the district, which straddles the Carroll-Baltimore county border.
Haines' supporters believe all these tactics eventually backfired: that the district was about evenly divided on the abortion issue; that voters may have resented attacks on Haines' religion, and that Schaefer's appearances only conjured up images of more taxing and spending.
Carroll went for the loser in the governor's race, Republican William S. Shepard.
Before meeting Griffith in the general election, Haines won the Republican primary against an interim incumbent, Sharon Hornberger, who was appointed to the seat last year when Sen. Raymond Beck was made a judge.
To win, Griffith had expected to hold his own in conservative Carroll and make up any losses there with a big vote in the overwhelmingly Democratic western Baltimore County precincts, which make up about 20 percent of the district.
But Baltimore County was busy ousting its county executive, a Democrat, based on some of the same anti-tax sentiments that Haines was emphasizing.
Haines may also have benefited from never having held public office before. Griffith said his polling showed Haines had name recognition equal to his own, but no "negatives."
"Nobody was mad at him for anything," Griffith said. But in the course of Griffith's years in public office, "a lot of people were mad . . . for a variety of things," Griffith said, "like homeless shelters, whatever."
Griffith said he was also damaged when police stopped his car last January for a drug search. The police found nothing and Griffith was never arrested. Although he was cleared, Griffith said, the affair may have tainted him, nonetheless.