Republicans left little doubt Tuesday as to which political party reigns supreme in Carroll, returning all GOP incumbents to office, winning a competitive battle for an open Senate seat and ousting a two-term Democratic sheriff.
"Republicans are very clearly in the driver's seat," conceded Carroll Democratic Central Committee chairman Greg Pecoraro after a disappointing election showing by the county's minority party.
The mood at the Democratic Party's Martin's West headquarters soured from apprehensive to subdued as results were reported. Even apparent victories for county state's attorney candidate Jerry F. Barnes and Sheriff Grover N. "Sam" Sensabaugh, who both prematurely made brief acceptance speeches, were reversed when results were updated.
"I feel like a pallbearer," said central committee vice chairman Philip S. Benzil, apologizing to the gathering of Democrats for the earlier gaffe.
Meanwhile, across the parking lot at Republican Senator-elect Larry E.
Haines' headquarters, campaign workers boisterously cheered updates showing the GOP candidate pulling away from Jeff Griffith in Carroll and staying close in the predominantly Democratic Baltimore County portion of District 5.
Carroll, traditionally recognized as a maverick in the Baltimore region for its conservative voting tendencies, instead set the trend in this election characterized by several significant Republican victories and a resurgence of the GOP in Baltimore suburbs.
Voter turnout in Carroll was 61.8 percent. Results will not be official until after 4 p.m. Friday.
Here is an analysis of the unofficial results:
Republican Donald I. Dell, 65, succeeded in his third attempt, winning 33 of 35 precincts and 23.6 percent of the vote among the six candidates.
Manchester Mayor Elmer C. Lippy Jr., 70, one of the Democrats' few bright spots Tuesday, finished second with 18.5 percent. Republican Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, 50, survived a scare from fellow GOP candidate Richard T.
Yates, earning a second term with 17.1 percent.
Dell, a Westminster farmer who delivered his "Keep It Country" slogan early and often, said that message struck a sensitive chord with voters concerned with managing growth.
Dell's message had an impact, said Leo Dodge, 42, of Manchester, a former Montgomery County resident who voted for the candidate.
"I moved here to get away from the rat race," he said election night.
"It seems to be following me."
Lippy said his joy was diminished by the misfortune of other Democrats, including commissioner hopefuls Sharon L. Baker and Richard F. Will Sr.
"It boils down to Democrats have a hard time getting elected in Carroll County," he said.
Gouge, appearing relieved after a close battle with Yates, said she struggled to get re-elected partly because she was the only incumbent.
"You carry with you the weight of all the problems people see from the past four years," she said.
The new commissioners each say they will work full time.
"It will ease my burden," said Gouge. "It's been a tremendous load to carry as a full-time commissioner while the others were there part-time, and sometimes hardly at all."
Haines, a Westminster real estate business owner making his first attempt at public office, basked in his accomplishment as victory became apparent around midnight, crediting his extensive campaign staff with generating grass-roots support.
"From the very beginning, I was considered the underdog," Haines said to exuberant supporters. "People said I shouldn't run for this office, but I took out the incumbent and the commissioner."
Haines defeated Sen. Sharon W. Hornberger, R-Carroll, Baltimore, a one-year appointee, in the primary, then Griffith, a Carroll Commissioner.
Voters were offered a marked contrast: Griffith, an abortion-rights proponent with political connections who advocates social causes and is viewed by some as a spend-and-tax "liberal"; Haines, an abortion-rights opponent who based his campaign on conservative values, fiscal austerity and a sense of civic duty.
Haines and political observers agreed the GOP candidate's strong performance in Baltimore County, comprising about 20 percent of the district's voters, assured victory. Haines captured about 44 percent of the votes in the predominantly Democratic region and 55 percent in Carroll.
"I don't know anyone who thought (Griffith) would win in Carroll County," said Pecoraro. "The feeling was he had to stay close in Carroll and win big in Baltimore County."
The Republican uprising that overthrew Democratic Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen also hurt Griffith, politicos say. Griffith's ties with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who lost badly to little-known Republican William Shepard in Carroll, didn't lift him either, they speculated.
"You always look for coattails in a slate of candidates," said Carroll Republican Central Committee member Joseph M. Getty. "There were no Democratic coattails with Shepard carrying Carroll County."