Bucking a national Republican tide, Democrat Paul S. Sarbanes won a fourth Senate term by a comfortable margin yesterday, easily turning back challenger Bill Brock.
A Salisbury native and the son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Sarbanes won 59 percent of the vote to become the first Marylander elected to four Senate terms since Millard E. Tydings, who served from 1927 until 1951.
His victory had a bittersweet tinge, however, coming as the Republicans were taking control of the Senate, an event that will deprive Mr. Sarbanes of his first major committee chairmanship.
In a Democratic Senate, Mr. Sarbanes would have headed the Banking Committee, an influential Capitol Hill post with responsibilities affecting the nation's banking, securities and housing industries.
With the Republican takeover of the Senate, Alphonse D'Amato of New York is expected to head the committee, leaving Mr. Sarbanes, as the senior minority member, unable to set the committee's agenda or wield much influence.
"These things don't last forever, you know," Mr. Sarbanes said of the Republican takeover. "There will be opportunities to turn this around."
This year, as in 1982 and 1988, Maryland Republicans saw their early hopes of defeating Mr. Sarbanes --ed by the liberal Democrat, whose plodding style and reluctance to seek publicity in non-election years have earned him the nickname "stealth senator."
This was the fourth successive Maryland Senate race in which the Republicans nominated a candidate who had moved to the state while working in Washington. In all four cases, the Republicans were handily dispatched.
Mr. Brock, an heir to a Tennessee candy fortune, put nearly $1.8 million of his own money into the race, a state record.
Mr. Sarbanes, as a long-term incumbent poised to take over the Banking Committee, was able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from industries that committee oversees, in addition to hundreds of thousands from his traditional allies, organized labor and Greek Americans.
Mr. Brock said last night he had no regrets.
"It's been a wonderful year; I've loved it," Mr. Brock said. "I think I've been unduly blessed to have had this opportunity."
As a former U.S. senator from Tennessee and head of the national Republican Party, Mr. Brock brought a wealth of political experience to a nomination that has gone to sacrificial lambs in years past.
Some Maryland Republicans saw him as the party's best chance to win a Senate seat since 1980, when Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. last ran. Mr. Mathias retired in 1986 and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Baltimore Democrat, succeeded him.
But Mr. Sarbanes was able to exploit much of the baggage that Mr. Brock had accumulated during his three decades in politics.
Mr. Sarbanes labeled the challenger a "carpetbagger" early on, based on his Tennessee roots and his mere five years of full-time residency in Maryland.
While Mr. Brock described himself as a political moderate, Mr. Sarbanes picked away at the conservative voting record he had built as a Tennessee congressman and senator from 1963 to 1977.
In television ads, Mr. Sarbanes went after Mr. Brock's votes against the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Clean Air Act and the creation of Medicare -- laws that many Marylanders supported.
Although Mr. Brock poured a small fortune into the race, he had difficulty focusing his message.
The challenger had clear differences with Mr. Sarbanes on many issues, including term limits, the deficit and the crime bill, but he could never galvanize voters around a single one.
He also struggled to make himself heard over the din surrounding the fiercely competitive Maryland governor's race, which dominated political news coverage.
On the stump, Mr. Brock looked tired at times and spoke so softly to citizens that he couldn't be heard from more than a few feet away. In interviews during the final week, most potential voters said they didn't know what his message was.
Mr. Sarbanes, by contrast, seemed surprisingly vibrant for a political professional with nearly a quarter century on Capitol Hill.
Appearing relaxed and confident, he spent the final days of the campaign greeting potential voters across Maryland, working as much for the Democratic Party as for himself.
At the Metro station in Silver Spring on Monday, he met commuters as they poured through the turnstiles, occasionally directing them toward Democratic gubernatorial candidate Parris N. Glendening, who was in a much tougher race.
After voting yesterday morning, Mr. Brock shook hands at a few polling places and then retreated to his waterfront home in Annapolis where he spent the day with his family.
Mr. Sarbanes spent the day visiting polling places in the Baltimore area.