Maryland Republicans, soundly defeated at the polls last week, received a measure of good news yesterday as three conservative legislative candidates emerged from absentee and provisional ballot counts with victories or leads in Anne Arundel County.
The three candidates, all of whom stressed conservative social positions, each overtook a Democratic opponent in the days after the Nov. 7 election.
As the county Board of Elections finished counting provisional ballots yesterday, Republican Bryan W. Simonaire had captured the state Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Philip C. Jimeno, Republican Ronald A. George had overtaken a Democratic County Council member for a legislative seat, and Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. had opened up an 11-vote lead over a Democratic delegate. Dwyer is viewed as one of the legislature's most conservative members.
The three appeared to be beneficiaries of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s plea that voters cast absentee ballots to avoid the vote-machine-related mishaps of the September primary.
Although about 200 absentee ballots, mostly from overseas, remain to be tallied in Anne Arundel, and although at least one Democrat might request a recount, yesterday's news cheered Republican leaders still despondent over last week's rout at the polls, including losses by Ehrlich in the governor's race and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in the U.S. Senate contest.
"It's going to be another good day for the county," said Chuck Gast, chairman of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee. "It just shows that this county is still trending Republican."
Gast said that he'd been confident that the county's absentee ballots would favor Republicans and determine the outcome in close races.
Democrat Walter Shandrowsky, who lost to Simonaire, said he thought absentee ballots played a role in the apparent Republican sweep of his district.
"I think the reason why [Republicans] did so well is [people] responded to Governor Ehrlich's call," he said. "He convinced a number of people [to vote absentee] and those people who did heed his call voted a straight Republican ticket. It's just ironic that it didn't seem to help Ehrlich."
Down in the polls and responding to voter outrage over problems during the September primary, Ehrlich and the state Republican Party repeatedly urged voters to use absentee ballots in this month's election. More than 192,000 voters requested the ballots, three times the number cast in 2002.
Still, the latest returns show that Ehrlich, who predicted in a radio interview last week that Democrat Martin O'Malley's margin of victory probably would be whittled down to "around 30,000" votes, benefited only modestly from the paper ballots.
As of yesterday, after every county and Baltimore City had completed its initial count of absentee ballots and most tallying of provisional ballots - paper ballots filled out in precincts on Election Day - O'Malley was leading Ehrlich by 108,481 votes, according to the state Elections Board Web site.
Ehrlich got about 56 percent of about 164,000 absentee and provisional ballots cast in his race, while O'Malley got 44 percent, according to the unofficial results.
But absentee and provisional ballots provided a late boon for Anne Arundel County Republicans.
After the polls closed Nov. 7, the county executive race between Republican John R. Leopold and Democrat George F. Johnson IV was too close to call. Leopold led by 334 votes out of more than 165,000 votes cast.
But by the time about 15,000 absentee ballots were counted Friday night, Leopold had opened up a nearly 4,000-vote lead. Johnson conceded over the weekend.
The same scenario played out in three closely contested legislative races.
Although Anne Arundel Democrats staved off efforts to knock off House Speaker Michael E. Busch, ousted Republican Del. Terry R. Gilleland Jr., and defeated a senator who switched to the GOP, their leads in three other races evaporated over the following week.
In the Senate contest to replace the retiring Jimeno in District 31, which includes Pasadena and part of Glen Burnie, Simonaire was leading Shandrowsky by 646 votes yesterday. After last Tuesday's election, Simonaire trailed by 198 votes.
Shandrowsky conceded Friday. Simonaire, a computer systems engineer, could not be reached yesterday.
Republican candidates also were edging out Democrats for the third spots in a pair of three-member districts.
In the House of Delegates race in District 30, George, an Annapolis jewelry store owner, was leading County Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a two-term Democrat, by 66 votes. Samorajczyk, a lawyer, led by 559 votes after Tuesday. George said yesterday he felt encouraged by the latest returns but declined to comment further.
And in District 31, Dwyer was leading Del. Joan Cadden, a three-term Democrat from Brooklyn Park, by 11 votes as of yesterday's tally.
But with more absentee votes still unexamined, Cadden was not conceding.