William Donald Schaefer withstood his toughest challenge in decades to capture the Democratic primary for state comptroller yesterday, and Del. Lisa A. Gladden defeated veteran state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman in a racially charged contest in Northwest Baltimore.
In a legislative district born of an ugly reapportionment process, Gladden, a black first-term delegate backed by Baltimore's most influential African-American leaders, handily beat Hoffman, who is white.
In another General Assembly race shaped by redistricting, Del. Maggie L. McIntosh captured a seat in the 43rd District in Northeast Baltimore. McIntosh, the House majority leader, waged an aggressive independent campaign against a slate of three incumbent delegates.
Hoffman's loss robs the city of one of its most powerful political leaders, with a career cut short by the once-a-decade remapping process. Gladden's victory provides a boost for the many black officials who backed her candidacy, calling her a strong voice for the city's future.
Many Democratic voters, however, cast ballots against Townsend in favor of little-known candidate Robert Raymond Fustero, a retired grocery clerk from Rockville.
Interviews at the polls also suggested that Townsend has her work cut out for her between now and the Nov. 5 general election despite Maryland's nearly 2-1 Democratic edge in voter registration. Many people said they have yet to see a compelling reason to vote for her.
"She's got to come out with strong issues for the general election to keep me a Democrat," said Margaret Cunningham, 64, a retired labor relations manager from Woodlawn.
"She's not vibrant enough. Her stage presence is not enough. She's got to get the adrenaline going in people, and she's not doing it. She's Milquetoast."
At a victory party in Canton last night, Townsend said she was focused on the weeks ahead.
"Tonight is a night to pull us all together," she said. "I can't say this has been a hard-fought [primary] election, but I can say that I'm raising the issues that are important to the people of Maryland."
Turnout was light statewide as voters headed to the polls under bright skies, but with only a few competitive contests to capture their imagination.
Schaefer, 80, the former governor and Baltimore mayor seeking his second term as comptroller, rebuffed a surprising onslaught from Maryland Secretary of State John T. Willis, a former chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
Willis, 55, became a candidate at the last possible moment in July, waging an upstart campaign that drew on support from government worker unions, Democratic clubs, environmentalists and other groups that felt alienated by Schaefer.
Willis' effort gained momentum in the past week through radio advertisements and phone banks funded by at least $50,000 in leftover funds from Glendening's campaign account.
The advertisements highlighted Schaefer's intemperate remarks and environmental voting record on the state Board of Public Works, made up of the comptroller, governor and state treasurer.
Many observers believe that Glendening urged Willis to run to exact revenge against Schaefer. Willis denies that and calls it insulting.
The current and former governors have feuded for much of the past four years, turning public works meetings into theatrical events.
Not only has Schaefer voted against land preservation programs backed by Glendening, but he also played a key role in triggering the disclosure of Glendening's relationship with a high-ranking aide who is 24 years his junior.
Glendening subsequently divorced his wife and married aide Jennifer Crawford, and the two recently had a baby girl.
As Glendening mounted his assault -- with ads that criticized Schaefer for referring to African-Americans as "Afros" and calling women "little girls" -- a flock of politicians gathered in Schaefer's defense.
Supporters included Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Townsend and U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. The back-and-forth made for one of the liveliest contests in the primary election.
Votes notice barbs
The barbs found their mark with voters such as Maureen Philip, 62, a nurse from Prince George's County who said it was time for Schaefer to retire.
"I wish I could go back to the days when I was a little girl, but I can't, and now it is not a compliment," Philip said. "It is an insult."
Most voters were unswayed, however, choosing to keep a political legend around for another four years.
"Don Schaefer as been a pretty good man, and honest as far as I know," said Ernest Couplin, 69, a retired inspector at Eastern Stainless Steel who was voting at Middlesex Elementary School in Baltimore County.
"He's the kind of guy we need down there in Annapolis."
"He is an old salt, and I don't think much of his politics," said Bill Holland, 60, a journalist from Hyattsville. "But Maryland has a history of trusting the old boy network.
"Besides, Schaefer is stirring the broth."
In selecting Gladden, 37, in the newly configured 41st District in Northwest Baltimore, voters chose youth over experience in a contest heavy with racial overtones.
Speaking to crowd of about 100 people who gathered at the Five Mile House restaurant in Northwest Baltimore, Gladden thanked retiring Sen. Clarence W. Blount and Del. Howard P. Rawlings for their persistence in helping her achieve success. She said their "worry made us better."
"When we polled the first time, I was behind 4-to-1," Gladden said. "Prayer changes things. God is good."
Hoffman told her supporters, "We ran a clean campaign. We didn't run a racial campaign. I know we did everything possible we could do."
The 70 percent black district is a creation of judges who tossed out Glendening's redistricting plan as unconstitutional. Blount tapped Gladden as his successor.
But Hoffman, a 20-year veteran and chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, argued that a shrinking city losing representation to the Washington suburbs needed her experience.
She refused to move to a nearby district that lacked an incumbent.
The primary winner is assured of election; no Republicans are running in the general election.
African-American political leaders -- including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Rawlings and former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- called for the election of a black candidate.
Cummings, who made strong pitches to voters through television and radio advertisements, said Gladden's efforts in such a high-profile campaign left a lasting impression on the city.
"We really admire her," Cummings said. "She worked very hard. She dotted all the I's and crossed all the T's. Now young girls say, 'I want to be like Lisa.'"
In the 43rd District in Northeast Baltimore, McIntosh was the top vote-getter, followed by Del. Ann Marie Doory and former Del. Curt Anderson. Incumbents Kenneth C. Montague Jr. and Michael V. Dobson were defeated.
The Republican primary for Maryland attorney general between Edwin MacVaugh and Jeffrey N. Pritzker was too close to call late last night. In the GOP primary for state comptroller, Gene Zarwell was leading Augustus Alzona.
In Prince George's County, State's Attorney Jack Johnson won a five-way Democratic primary contest to succeed County Executive Wayne K. Curry, prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
Johnson topped former Glendening chief of staff Major F. Riddick Jr., Del. Rushern L. Baker III, Prince George's County Councilman M.H. Jim Estepp, and former delegate and pastor C. Anthony Muse.
In the November election, Johnson will face GOP Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott.
With primaries aside, much of the election season focus now turns to the race for governor. Ehrlich supporters said they were confident he could do well despite the state's Democratic leanings.
And many Democrats said they were considering crossing party lines.
Jerry Roddy, a Silver Spring engineer and registered Democrat, said he planned to vote for Ehrlich in November:
"It's not what I like about Ehrlich; it's what I do not like about Townsend. Everything she does is scripted. The question is: Can she think? In politics, the choice is often the lesser of two evils."
Sun staff writers Ivan Penn, Howard Libit, Sarah Koenig and Tim Craig contributed to this article.