In an election year dominated by the fear of crime, state Sen. Nancy L. Murphy seemed to hold the trump card over her three challengers from Baltimore and Howard counties in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
But, despite the Catonsville incumbent's strong record in Annapolis on criminal justice reform, Ms. Murphy couldn't overcome boundary changes in Senate District 12, the erosion of her support by a formidable challenger in her own backyard and her anti-gun control stance, party activists and gun control advocates said.
Former state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, the only Howard County candidate in the race, defeated Ms. Murphy 38 percent to 32 percent overall and 70 percent to 16 percent in his home county.
Mr. Kasemeyer's victory sets up a general election between two Howard candidates in a district in which about 53 percent of the voters live in Baltimore County. David Maier of Elkridge defeated fellow Elkridge resident Christopher Eric Bouchat for the GOP nomination.
Southwestern Baltimore County political activists are concerned that they no longer will have a home-based state Senate representative. Part of Catonsville is in District 47, which is represented by Sen. George W. Della Jr. of Baltimore.
"As elected officials from this area, we have to work exceedingly hard with the senators to make sure they do represent this area," said Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a member of the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee and the Democratic nominee for Baltimore County Council from the 1st District.
Mr. Kasemeyer attributed his win to stronger-than-expected -Z support in Howard County and a respectable showing in Baltimore County.
"I want to say my opponents didn't make the impact in Howard County that I was able to make in Baltimore County," said Mr. Kasemeyer, who represented part of Columbia and western Howard County in the state legislature from 1983 to 1990.
Mr. Kasemeyer, 49, who has worked in banking and real estate, lost his re-election bid in 1990 to Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe. After that, he was director of government affairs for Montgomery County for three years. He left the Montgomery County post in March to run for governor but switched to the Senate District 12 race because he couldn't establish a viable statewide campaign, he said.
He recently moved from western Howard County to Columbia.
District 12, which Ms. Murphy has represented in the House and Senate for 12 years, had been contained within southwestern Baltimore County before the 1992 redistricting, which removed the Woodlawn area and added Elkridge and west Columbia.
In Baltimore County, Ms. Murphy won 44 percent of the vote to 35 percent for Catonsville developer Thomas E. Booth. Campaign staffs for Ms. Murphy and Mr. Booth had worked together until Ms. Murphy pulled out of the Baltimore County executive race in late June to defend her Senate seat. The split vote between the two Catonsville candidates helped ensure victory for Mr. Kasemeyer, who won 13 percent of the Baltimore County vote.
Mr. Moxley said it appeared that the Baltimore County candidates had to spend so much time battling for votes in their own region that they didn't have enough time to win support in Howard County.
Mr. Kasemeyer said that having "Howard County" listed along with his name on the ballot contributed greatly to his success.
"To a great extent, a race is based on the familiarity a county has with a candidate. In this race, that probably was the greatest issue," Mr. Kasemeyer said.
Tom Rainville, Mr. Booth's campaign office manager, who was stationed at a Columbia polling site on primary day, agreed with that assessment after informally surveying voters as they left the poll.
Asked why they voted for Mr. Kasemeyer, "they'd say Howard County," Mr. Rainville said. "If I were put in their shoes, I'd probably do the same thing."
Mr. Booth didn't return phone calls yesterday. Ms. Murphy was out of town and couldn't be reached for comment, said a district office spokeswoman.
Mr. Kasemeyer said it was tougher to gauge the response to his emphasis on the need for comprehensive gun control legislation, a position that distinguished him from the rest of the field.
But Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said he believes gun control was the deciding issue. MAHA mailed literature to voters in the district informing them of Mr. Kasemeyer's support of gun control proposals and other contenders' opposition.
"It shows you can't oppose reasonable gun control measures and win election in suburban-urban districts in Maryland," Mr. DeMarco said. "This sends a clear message to the legislature that the time has come for comprehensive gun control."
Mr. Maier, 37, a home restoration business owner, said he is eager to square off against Mr. Kasemeyer, whom he considers too liberal for most of the district. He said he has been campaigning in Baltimore County since early 1993 and that he identifies strongly with the older neighborhoods of Catonsville, Arbutus, Lansdowne and surrounding areas.
"We talk the same language," he said. "I live in the historic district in Elkridge. I have a real love for older, established neighborhoods that have deep family roots."
Mr. Kasemeyer said Mr. Maier still will be viewed as an outsider by Baltimore County residents and that he has to become better acquainted with Baltimore County.