A divided Maryland electorate split almost down the middle in the governor's race last night, producing a down-to-the-tape sprint by Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Democrat Parris R. Glendening.
Gene Raynor, the state administrator of elections, said the governor's contest would be decided by about 50,000 absentee ballots. Counting those ballots will begin tomorrow morning and be completed later in the day, he said.
Mr. Raynor predicted that, whoever wins, the margin of victory will not exceed 51-49. That would make this contest the closest since 1934, when Republican Harry W. Nice edged Democrat Albert C. Ritchie by a similar margin.
Mrs. Sauerbrey carried all but three of the state's 24 subdivisions, however those three -- Baltimore City, Prince George's County and Montgomery County -- were populous enough to leave the result in doubt.
Though the governor's race was a cliff-hanger, voters handed Paul S. Sarbanes, a liberal Democrat, an easy victory in his bid for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.
Pleased with his victory, Mr. Sarbanes was disappointed that an apparent takeover of the Senate by Republicans would deny him the powerful chairmanship of the banking committee.
"Instead of being the chairman, I'll be the ranking minority member," he said. "There's a role to be played, and we'll be playing it every day," he said of himself and fellow Democrats.
In the attorney general's race, Democrat J. Joseph Curran Jr. led his Republican challenger, former U.S. Attorney Richard Bennett, by a 52-48 margin, with 84 percent of the precincts reporting. Mr. Curran was seeking his third term in the post.
Elections officials estimated the statewide turnout at 58 percent of registered voters, slightly higher than the 55 percent they predicted Monday.
In the governor's race, Mrs. Sauerbrey, 57, a 16-year veteran of the House of Delegates, took a narrow lead over the Mr. Glendening, 52, a University of Maryland professor and Prince George's County executive.
Mr. Glendening was the early favorite in the race because of the Democrat's statewide 2-to-1 edge in registered voters.
But in recent weeks Mrs. Sauerbrey, who called for a 24 percent cut in personal income taxes over four years, pulled even and passed him in some late opinion polls.
Mr. Glendening, who ran as a pragmatic technocrat with a carefully plotted plan for governing, called for increases in spending on education and prison reform without a tax increase. He tried to paint Mrs. Sauerbrey as an extremist, citing her opposition to abortion, gun control and $2,000 vouchers for the parents of students in private schools.
The Republican had a message that was far simpler to sell: slash state personal income taxes by one-quarter over four years. She insisted her tax surgery would be nearly painless, with no layoffs and no cuts in vital programs. And she portrayed Mr. Glendening favoring high taxes and big government.
Mr. Glendening, who won the overwhelming support of black voters, needed a big turnout in Baltimore City to have any hope of winning. Election officials estimated that 58 percent of registered city voters showed up at the polls last night, compared with 36 percent in 1990.
In the attorney general's race, both candidates boasted of their crime-fighting prowess and brawled their way through the campaign. Mr. Bennett accused Mr. Curran of using his state car and driver for out-of-state shopping trips. Mr. Curran said that Mr. Bennett didn't pay withholding taxes on employees in his private law firm several years ago.
In the struggle for the state's only open congressional seat, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., 36, of Timonium coasted past the Democrat, Gerry L. Brewster of Towson, 37, beating him by a margin of almost 3-2.
Both are graduates of Baltimore's Gilman School and Princeton, and both serve in the House of Delegates.
But the state's 2nd District seat was crafted with its current occupant, Republican Helen Delich Bentley, in mind. Combined with the statewide shift toward Republicans, Mr. Ehrlich was always the clear favorite in the race. (Rep. Bentley was defeated by Mrs. Sauerbrey in the Republican gubernatorial primary.)
Senator Sarbanes, a liberal incumbent in a year when both liberals and incumbents are supposed to be loathed by voters, won by a margin of almost 3-2.
An exit poll conducted for The Sun showed Mr. Sarbanes winning among every sector of the electorate. He succeeded, apparently, in portraying the challenger as a carpetbagger, and in raising doubts about Mr. Brock based on his votes in the 1960s against civil rights and environmental legislation.
Voters appeared reluctant to slap a term limit on another die-hard Democrat.
Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, seeking his 10th term as the state's chief tax collector, won a slim victory over his Republican opponent, banking consultant Timothy Mayberry. With about three-quarters of the votes counted, Mr. Goldstein's 52-48 margin was expected to hold.
In the 6th District, the freshman Republican, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, turned aside a well-financed challenge from the Democrat, Paul Muldowney. With more than 84 percent of the returns counted last night, Mr. Bartlett led, 66 to 34 percent.
Mr. Muldowney, 59, who served two terms in the state legislature, charged that the incumbent voted "no" on practically every piece of legislation. Mr. Bartlett, a 68-year-old scientist, was elected on a pledge to hold down government spending, even if his stance affected his Western Maryland district.
He kept that promise, voting against federal aid for snow removal after his district was buried in the blizzard of 1993.
Among Democratic incumbents, Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin won a fifth term over Republican Robert Ryan Tousey in the 3rd District. Rep. Kweisi Mfume won his fifth term, beating Republican Kenneth Kondner in the 7th District.
In the 5th District, Rep. Steny Hoyer, seeking his eighth term, defeated Republican Donald Devine, who served as director of the Office of Personnel Management under former President Ronald Reagan.
Rep. Albert R. Wynn beat Republican Michele Dyson in the 4th District.
Among the Republican incumbents, Rep. Constance Morella swept aside Democrat Steven Van Grack, winning her fifth term. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest won a third term over Democrat Ralph T. Gies.
Historically, the Democrats have dominated the state legislature, holding 116 of 141 seats in the House of Delegates and 28 of 47 seats in the state Senate. Republicans said before the election that they hoped to pick up as many as 15 seats in the House and five in the Senate as a result of Mrs. Sauerbrey's clout.
Early returns suggest that the GOP will do better than that. Republicans could pick up as many as eight seats in the state Senate, and seemed confident of getting the 15 House seats.
"I'm absolutely thrilled with what's happening around the country and in Maryland," said Joyce Terhes, chairman of the state GOP, who credited Republican victories with the unpopularity of the current occupant of the White House.
"The people have spoken and the message is Bill Clinton, go home," she said.
If Mrs. Sauerbrey becomes governor, Ms. Terhes said, the dominant Democrats in the legislature will "have to listen and do what's best for the state and not what's best for their personal agendas."
She said her party's gains in the State House were mirrored by victories in other local races.