Carroll County Democrats repelled a last-minute Republican rally last week and won by one, the narrowest of margins.
That would be a run, not a vote.
Area business leaders and officials organized a spirited softball competition to put the political parties on friendly terms. The bipartisan game, rescheduled three times, finally was played Thursday evening in downtown Westminster.
"We wanted to prove to everybody in the county that people can just agree to disagree and not let politics polarize us," said Josh Kohn, a Westminster business owner.
The political opponents played in shirts printed with "It's all about being American" - Democrats in stark white and Republicans in bright blue. Kohn initially hoped for a match between the two parties' central committees, but his efforts proved unsuccessful. He would not be more specific.
"Let's just say that the Dems were more willing to play than the Republicans," Kohn said.
Undeterred, Kohn approached "guys I work with everyday" and found a lot of enthusiasm for the game.
"People are too tightly wrapped about this election," said Robert Wack, a local pediatrician and the Democrats' team captain. "No matter who wins, we want to all be friends after."
The parties took to the field in the city park without putting politics completely aside.
Bright red Mikulski signs decorated the bleachers and life-sized, cardboard cutouts of the presidential candidates were stationed in the infield. The relaxed rules promised a home run to any batter who hit the ersatz Bush or Kerry images, but no one managed to score that way. The Kerry figure stood throughout the seven-inning game, but the Bush caricature fell over repeatedly - even during the singing of the national anthem - until players steadied it with a traffic cone.
"It is not right to have the commander-in-chief falling over," said Andy Biller, GOP team captain.
Oddly enough, Carroll's minority party, which registered Republicans outnumber by nearly 20,000, fielded a bigger softball team. In the first inning, Wack had his entire roster of 16 in the field. The undermanned Republicans, who briefly considered recruiting from the stands, did not protest.
"Let them have their fun and play the whole team. We will still beat them," Biller said.
Every player pledged to keep comments apolitical, but the zingers flew throughout the game.
"Are you guys sleeping out there?" Biller asked when his team missed a fly ball. "It reminds me of the debates."
Biller, who quickly became known as "The Killer," tried to psych out his opponents when he came to bat and pointed repeatedly to the Kerry figure stationed at shortstop. The Democrats all moved in with gloves held high.
The four umpires and rotating announcers, including Kohn, could barely keep track of the hits, runs and outs and often had to caucus. Pitchers and batters frequently played a part in calls at home plate, where an inexperienced Bonnie Grady, director of the county Chamber of Commerce, was umpire.
When the Republicans left the field, certain the inning was over, Grady produced a clicker that showed two outs and ordered them back. "We are not usually the indecisive bunch," Biller said.
A controversy arose about a ball stuck in the home-plate fence. The first-base umpire ruled it foul, a decision Grady accepted, because, she said, that ump had paid for all the game shirts. Late into the evening, when no one could recall which inning the game was in, Grady said, "The clicker doesn't count innings." That decision was left to members of the press covering the game.
The score seesawed until the fifth inning, when fresh bats arrived for the GOP. Jim Lorditch, a local contractor, hit a two-run homer on his first at-bat and homered again in the sixth with two men on.
"He is a ringer," Kohn said.
The Dems rallied in the seventh and changed their batting order - "dynamic substitutions in a fluid game," Wack said. They ended the inning with a one-run lead.
The Republicans, cheering "four more years," made a few substitutions of their own and led off with their heavy hitters. Lorditch put forth a mighty effort but could not save them. The Dems held the 17-16 lead.
"It was ugly, but we pulled through," Wack said. "Our team displayed the heart necessary to be the minority party in Carroll County."
The players planned to retire to Harry's Main Street Grille, a diner owned by Republican slugger Harry Sirinakis.
"Just to show we are not sore losers, drafts will be $1 for Republicans and $5 for Dems," Biller promised.