In defeating Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. won by getting a larger slice of a growing pie.
The larger slice is the increased percentage of the vote - up to 79 percent - Ehrlich received in many of Maryland's fastest-growing suburbs compared with Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the GOP standard-bearer in the past two elections.
The growing pie is the increased number of votes in counties that are now seen as pivotal to statewide political success.
Ehrlich's victory has cast doubt on the Democrats' previously successful strategy of largely ignoring the Baltimore suburbs and instead focusing on the "Big Three" liberal bastions of Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Ehrlich beat Townsend by 58,000 votes, thanks in large part to Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Frederick counties. In those jurisdictions, he bested Townsend by 217,616 votes - over 100,000 votes more than Sauerbrey received in those counties in 1994 and 1998.
Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Townsend erred by concentrating on voter turnout in Democratic strongholds in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs. Instead, he said, she should have spent more time persuading independents and conservative Democrats in the city's suburbs to support her candidacy.
"You couldn't win the race by mobilizing the old base," Schaller said. "It wasn't about mobilization; it was about conversion."
On Tuesday, Townsend earned a 247,000-vote advantage in the Big Three, the only jurisdictions that she won. But that spread was not nearly enough to propel her to victory after Ehrlich's success in the Baltimore suburbs.
But Townsend's Big Three margin likely would have been enough to win in past years. In 1994, for instance, Parris N. Glendening won the governor's race after piling up a 181,000-vote spread in Baltimore and in Montgomery and Prince George's counties that was just enough to make up for Sauerbrey's superiority in the rest of the state.
Ehrlich's largest advantage came in Baltimore County, his home base, where he received 61 percent of the vote - compared to Sauerbrey's 57 percent eight years ago. And 267,544 votes were cast in the county Tuesday - 30,000 more than in 1994.
Turnout in Baltimore County was just over 65 percent - higher than in any of the Big Three jurisdictions, which were led by Montgomery County (61 percent).
Schaller has calculated that even if turnout in Baltimore and in Montgomery and Prince George's reached the same level as Baltimore County - a circumstance he described as "astronomical and unprecedented" - Ehrlich still would have won the election by 9,000 votes.
In a nod to growing suburban voting power in Maryland, Schaller has coined a name for Frederick and the suburban Baltimore counties (Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard): "The New Big Five."
In terms of the number of votes cast, the label "Big Three" has been somewhat of a misnomer; at least as far back as 1994, Baltimore County was second in the state in the number of votes cast, behind Montgomery but ahead of Prince George's County and Baltimore.
In this year's election, the term is even more misleading, as Anne Arundel moved ahead of Baltimore in the number of votes cast.
Viewed another way, Harford and Carroll, where Ehrlich got more than 70 percent of the vote, accounted for nearly as many votes as Baltimore.
Besides getting walloped in the larger suburbs, Townsend got trounced in such outer-suburban areas as St. Mary's and Queen Anne's counties, where Ehrlich got 65 and 74 percent of the vote, respectively. That compares to Sauerbrey's 1994 figures of 58 and 65 percent.
John T. Willis, Maryland's secretary of state and a political analyst, said Townsend performed particularly poorly in what he called "outlying areas."
Referring to the Baltimore suburbs, he said: "The Townsend candidacy dropped to levels we've never seen before."
Not everyone is convinced that the Democrat strategy of focusing on its strongholds should be abandoned.
Some say the problem is not with the strategy but its execution. This year's turnout in Montgomery and Prince George's counties was lower than in either 1994 or 1998; in Baltimore, turnout was less than it was in 1998 but higher than in 1994.
"I'm not sure that there's a total collapse of the [Big Three] strategy," said Arnie Graf, a consultant to BUILD, a Baltimore-based social action group.
Graf points out that Townsend got nearly 48 percent of the vote - despite what he characterized as a flawed candidacy.
"If Townsend had been a better candidate and had run a campaign that made any kind of sense, she might have won," Graf said.
Graf said one key would be to continue voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts so the city can push its turnout (which was 53 percent) "up to 60" percent.
But his view is clearly a minority one.