Richard, Arbutus: I am not really sure if Gov. [Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] was elected four years ago or if Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was un-elected. Do you have any observations on what appears to be a very strong Democrat[ic] party loyalty in this state and how that and not issues might affect elections?

Nitkin: To borrow an observation from Don Norris, a public policy professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a careful observer of state politics: In Maryland, a good Democratic candidate will beat a good Republican candidate every time.

I think party loyalty is on the wane in Maryland and most other places. But Democrats continue to hold an edge in party registration for several reasons, including the fact that many Marylanders are employees of federal or local government and tend to view government as a valuable provider of services -- which tends to be a Democratic view. Additionally, more than three in 10 Marylanders are black or of another racial minority, and also tend to register and vote Democratic.

For many offices, though, party affiliation is much less a factor than personal competence and personality. I think that when people vote for county executive or mayor or governor, they are selecting someone to do a job -- or "make the trains run on time" -- rather than selecting someone because of a set of ideological beliefs.

Senate and congress are different -- for those choices, I believe ideology and party affiliation are more critical.

In my view, Democrats will continue to hold sway in state politics for the foreseeable future because the party has a deeper bench than Republicans. People like Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley, Attorney General-elect Doug Gansler, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn Ivey are in influential positions, are all in their 40s, and will be around for a long time. Each has already paid his dues for years.

And an attractive crop waits in the wings, such as state Sen. Rob Garagiola of Montgomery County and Lisa Gladden of Baltimore; and Ken Ulman, the newly elected Howard County executive.

Irene, Baltimore: Where can I find the total number of votes for each candidate by precinct?

Nitkin: Precinct-level election results are kept county by county, but not all are readily available. I found precinct results on the Web sites for Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, but not for Baltimore City or Anne Arundel or Howard counties.

Bud, Pasadena: I guess with a Democratic administration, one can assume you'll be taking a softer approach in reporting. Am I correct?

Nitkin: I have a feeling you won't believe the answer, but reporters and editors at The Sun pursue good news stories -- and attempt to get at the truth -- regardless of party affiliation of the politicians in office. The Sun has aggressively and thoroughly covered Democratic administrations in the past, from Marvin Mandel and Harry Hughes to William Donald Schaefer and Parris N. Glendening. We will do the same with Martin O'Malley.