For a woman who could resort to profanity, yelling and even smashing things to make a point, Helen Delich Bentley was remarkably serene two days after losing what she insists will be her last run for public office.
Sitting in her Timonium campaign office, the 78-year-old Bentley watched CNN with her campaign manager, Michael S. Kosmas.
She munched on leftover turkey sandwiches and a cherry-topped homemade cheesecake while volunteers drove through Anne Arundel County taking down her yard signs.
"I'm discarding all of my signs and everything right now. There's no danger -- I'm not even saving the lumber," she said.
On Tuesday, Bentley lost her bid to regain the 2nd District seat -- the one she held from 1984 to 1994 -- to Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive.
But like many other Maryland Republicans who lost, she saw her defeat as a footnote to the greatest moment for the state GOP in 36 years -- the election of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor.
"A congressional seat is nice. It doesn't change the lay of the land somewhere," Kosmas said.
"A governor's office changes the lay of the land. It creates a fundamental impact on what happens in a state."
The general consensus among political observers is that Bentley's candidacy didn't help Ehrlich much.
Ehrlich got more votes in the 2nd District -- which he represented for eight years until running for governor -- than she did.
But, several area Republicans said, Bentley is responsible for Ehrlich's victory in a broader sense because of the role she played in helping the state party win votes from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Back to the middle
The constituency she won over in the early 1980s and trained for 10 years to vote Republican -- at least sometimes -- is the same one Ehrlich carried in his four congressional elections and used as the base of his statewide victory.
"While she controlled the Republican Party in this state during the '80s and into the early '90s, the party was a moderate Republican Party that was making great gains," said Douglas B. Riley, the Republican candidate for Baltimore County executive.
"After her defeat for governor, the party swung to the right and we began losing again. Her final legacy is that she has brought the party back again to the middle, and I think that has helped Bob Ehrlich get elected."
That legacy didn't help Bentley on Tuesday.
A major problem for her was Gov. Parris N. Glendening's redrawing of the districts boundaries to make it more favorable to Ruppersberger.
Oz Bengur, who lost to Ruppersberger in the Democratic primary, noted that much of Bentley's appeal stems from her reputation as a tough-as-nails fighter.
She is famous for standing on the steps of the Capitol and smashing a Toshiba radio with a sledgehammer to protest Japanese trade policy.
But Ruppersberger never responded to her jabs, Bengur said, which forced her to be a less dynamic presence.
Even so, Bentley kept the race close until her inability to compete with Ruppersberger in fund raising caught up to her.
Republicans were reluctant to discuss it during the election, but several acknowledged this week that Ehrlich's tremendous fund-raising success hurt GOP candidates across the state because it dried up the pool of potential donors.
Bentley said she understood that and wasn't upset. Had Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend beaten Ehrlich, that might have been different.
"The volunteers had primarily gone to Ehrlich's campaign, which is understandable. That was more exciting than ours," Bentley said. "And more of the money went there. Of course, everyone really wanted to get Kathleen out of there. We don't care, but if we had more money, we would have won."
Shift in focus
Ruppersberger did raise significantly more money than Bentley, but the Ehrlich factor doesn't begin to explain the disparity. The Democrat also got far more financial support from his national party than Bentley did from hers.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee first bought television time for so-called "issue ads" supporting Ruppersberger and criticizing Bentley on Sept. 23. The National Republican Congressional Committee didn't enter the field until Oct. 22.
In all, the DCCC spent about $1.2 million to run 944 spots on Baltimore television, compared with $360,000 from the NRCC for 298 spots. Bentley and the party bought another 78 spots with $75,585 in joint expenditures.
"If the NRCC had done what they said in March they would do, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Bentley said.
The reason it didn't, Bentley and Kosmas theorized, was that the party saw weeks before the election that Republicans would easily maintain control of the House of Representatives.
When the House was in play, it made sense to go after that seat.