Old-line Democratic foot soldiers in the strongholds of Essex and Catonsville soon may be wondering when the gates were breached.
Their once-inviolable precincts suddenly are crawling with enemies -- Republican candidates for the Maryland House of Delegates. So many, in fact, that both districts will have Republican primary elections this year.
That's in stark contrast to 1990, when no Republicans filed in Catonsville and only three did in Essex, enough to fill the ballot without a primary.
With the official filing deadline still more than four months away, eight Republicans already are running for three House seats in the 6th District, which covers Baltimore County from Essex to Kingsville and extends into Harford County.
One Republican, Alfred E. Clasing Jr., is seeking the Senate nomination.
In Catonsville, four Republicans are seeking the nomination for the two delegate seats in the new subdistrict 12A, which stretches into Howard county.
Two Howard County Republicans are vying for the 12th District Senate seat.
In the Eastside's 6th District, the Democratic incumbents are E. Farrell Maddox, the county delegation chairman; 20-year veteran Del. Michael H. Weir, and Del. Leslie E. Hutchinson. In the 12th district on the west are House Majority Leader Kenneth H. Masters and 20-year veteran Louis P. Morsberger.
The Republican awakening is catching some Democratic leaders by surprise.
Even so, he predicted Democrats will regroup this year and prove that the GOP victories led by County Executive Roger B. Hayden in 1990 were a fluke.
"It's probably more wishful thinking than anything else," he said about Republicans' predictions of success this year.
L But GOP leaders say they have several things going for them:
* Leftover voter resentment of entrenched, longtime Democratic incumbents.
* Redistricting, which added more Republicans in both legislative districts.
* Momentum and interest triggered by an expected strong Republican gubernatorial primary and local primaries.
* The possible vulnerability of some Democratic incumbents, notably Ms. Hutchinson, whose financial and traffic court problems have been well publicized.
As of Jan. 31, the 6th District contained 29,629 Democrats and 10,361 Republicans. District 12A has 20,609 Democrats and 9,773 Republicans.
Conservative Democratic voters in both areas have been kind to Republicans running for president since Richard M. Nixon's "law and order" campaign in 1968. Republican Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of the congressional 2nd District -- now a gubernatorial candidate -- has also done well on Baltimore County's Eastside.
But loyal Democrats usually have drawn the line at voting for Republicans for local office. GOP leaders think that's changing.
"The voters have never had a choice before. They're more conservative, and now they'll have a choice," said Del. James F. Ports Jr., one of two Republicans elected in 1990 from eastern Baltimore County's old 8th District, which covers Fullerton, Carney and Perry Hall.
In 1990, Mr. Hayden upset incumbent Democrat Dennis F. Rasmussen in the county executive's race, and Republicans won County Council seats in Towson, Catonsville and Fullerton.
Their successes -- and some other close losses -- have buoyed Republican hopes.
"We seriously think we could pick up at least one seat in each district," said GOP Party chairman Kent Swanson.
"We have good quality candidates. For the first time, they [voters] will see a unified group," said Thomas J. Kuegler Jr., 22, of Middlesex, an Essex House candidate.
Mr. Clasing, a community activist who first ran for the legislature in 1966, will head one ticket composed of House candidates Nancy Hastings, a Hayden campaign worker from Kingsville; Mr. Kuegler; and Essex bar owner Stephen A. Xintas, a former president of the county's Licensed Beverage Association.
Others running in Essex include Michael J. Davis, who lost by only 1,200 votes in 1992; Kenneth C. Holt of Bradshaw, a stockbroker and farmer who is president of the Baltimore County Police Foundation; L. Keith Roberts, a cook at a White Marsh restaurant; Robert D. Chaney, a county firefighter from Kingsville; and Bruce A. Laing, a tavern keeper on the Back River Neck Peninsula.
In District 12A, the candidates are Donald E. Murphy, a commercial real estate broker from Catonsville; Dennis J. Lanahan, a Catonsville businessman who ran for the Senate in 1990; Martin A. Manescu, a Young Republicans Club member who works in his family's janitorial supply business; and Donald Drehoff, an MCI Telecommunications employee from Catonsville.
Senate candidates are Christopher Eric Bouchat, a Howard County resident who ran for Congress in 1992, and David P. Maier, an Elkridge construction contractor.
Noting that Catonsville's Democratic delegates ran unopposed last time, Mr. Murphy said, "I don't know if they know how to run a campaign.