With bold promises of open government and policy reform, they defeated two incumbents in a bitter primary and racked up huge margins over their Democratic opponents in the general election.
But now, the three Republicans who will be inaugurated tomorrow morning for four-year terms as Carroll County commissioners are set to begin the more challenging task of governing.
And they know that they face great, perhaps exaggerated, expectations - expectations that they will reduce residential growth, forge better relations with state leaders and attract businesses that offer higher-paying jobs to Carroll.
"The main concern I have is that the citizens might expect us to change everything overnight," said Julia Walsh Gouge, the sole incumbent who was re-elected. "Especially with the growth issue, the fact is there are so many houses already in the pipeline that we can't stop. People could look at those and say, `What in the world are these commissioners doing?'"
Gouge's fears don't seem unfounded. County political observers say they hope to see immediate improvement.
"I'll be watching the new board very closely for the first six months to see if they do what they said they were going to do," said Jeannie Nichols, a defeated Democratic candidate for commissioner and Sykesville councilwoman. "Actions count more than words, and I want to make sure they don't lose the priorities they talked about during the election."
Despite such scrutiny, Gouge and Commissioners-elect Perry L. Jones Jr. and Dean L. Minnich say they will not begin with a blitz of major policy decisions. Besides confronting a few pressing issues, the three say, they will spend the next month or two gathering thoughts and suggestions from county staff members, and devising a suitable meeting schedule.
The incoming commissioners have gathered for several informal meetings that they said helped them learn more about each other's personal styles. They have not spent much time discussing county issues.
"It's too early for us to have lined up a firm agenda," Minnich said. "A lot of that will be generated by staff."
Gouge, Minnich and Jones entered the primary field early this year as moderates. To varying degrees, they criticized conservative incumbents Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier for their policies on growth management and their seeming inability to avoid conflict with state leaders.
Although the three didn't run as a ticket, a mass mailing by a group called Responsible Republicans of Carroll County endorsed them in the GOP primary and solidified the image of them as a reform slate. They faced opposition from experienced and well-funded conservatives, but Gouge and Minnich won easily in the primary Sept. 10. And Jones, a former Democrat running as a Republican for the first time, placed third, beating other candidates by a margin of 1,000 or more votes.
Town leaders and community activists who had opposed incumbents Dell and Frazier expressed unabashed joy at the results of the primary, and called the election a turning point in Carroll history. Enthusiasm for the three candidates intensified when they joined the other five candidates in signing a letter that asked Dell and Frazier not to make major policy decisions during their last months in office.
All three finished with more than 30,000 votes each in the general election Nov. 5, while each of the other candidates finished with fewer than 15,000.
Despite the candidates' letter, Dell and Frazier outvoted Gouge on several contentious issues, rezoning a few large tracts of farmland for industrial use, attempting to auction the former Hampstead Elementary School against town leaders' wishes, and terminating the county's contract with its humane society.
Last week, Dell sent a 12-page packet to town leaders detailing his thoughts on how the county should manage residential growth for the next four years. His critics found this an ironic gesture from a commissioner they had accused of zealously protecting development rights.
Gouge, Minnich and Jones said they probably will spend their first weeks undoing much of what Dell and Frazier have done. For example, they will have to make a quick decision about the fate of the Hampstead school, the auction of which was temporarily barred last week by a Circuit Court judge. All three have said they probably will comply with Mayor Christopher M. Nevin's wishes and cancel the sale.
Other early priorities could include canceling plans to build a water treatment plant at Piney Run Park, negotiating an agreement with surrounding counties to protect shared watersheds, and creating a database to chart residential development throughout the county, the three said.
Minnich, who as a local newspaper editor and columnist has watched many commissioners, said he expects this board to be among the most compatible in his lifetime. He and his future colleagues said they took positive impressions of one another from their initial meetings.