Del. John A. Giannetti was clinging to a slight lead last night in his bid to unseat longtime state Sen. Arthur Dorman in an election that had turned into a referendum on Dorman's age and health.
With all but one precinct reporting - and results having see-sawed through the evening - Giannetti had slightly more than half of the vote in the Democratic primary for the 21st Legislative District. Just 191 votes separated the two candidates, 4,015 for Giannetti to 3,824 for Dorman.
It appeared last night that the race would be decided by absentee ballots.
Anne Arundel officials said they distributed 37 absentee ballots. Although official numbers were not available from Prince George's County last night, Giannetti said his campaign estimated about 450 absentee ballots were sent out in that county.
Regardless of the outcome, Giannetti said he was pleased with his strong showing - particularly in Anne Arundel, where he won every precinct.
"It looks as though the constituents of the 21st District have answered the call for a change," Giannetti said from a party at the Red, Hot & Blue restaurant in Laurel, "and we're very confident that after all the ballots are counted, we will have a new senator in the 21st district."
Dorman, reached at a campaign party at the Green Turtle Restaurant in Laurel, said he was "shocked" by the tight results. "I thought we'd do a hell of a lot better," said Dorman, who added that he expects to do well on the absentee ballots. "We think we might pull this out."
The race had become one of the tightest and nastiest in the state, with the candidates accusing each other of using campaign funds illegally, making false claims to endorsements and distorting each other's records.
An Annapolis institution, Dorman has served in the state legislature for 37 years, playing a key role in reshaping the state university system and extending kindergarten statewide. His first 10 years there were spent in the House of Delegates. He had not lost an election going into last night.
Giannetti is a Washington lawyer who was first elected to the House of Delegates four years ago. He ran an aggressive campaign this year, even lining Dorman's street with his campaign signs.
Several voters said yesterday that for them, the election turned on Giannetti's youth and energy. The state delegate is 38, while Dorman is 75.
Some said they voted for Giannetti simply because they recognized his name. He had carpeted the district with his huge blue signs and knocked on thousands of doors.
"It's embarrassing, but it was name recognition," said Denise Teagle of Jessup, after voting for Giannetti at Jessup Elementary. "I've seen his signs all over."
While the candidates differed on some key issues, voters didn't mention that as important to them.
Giannetti favors the Inter-County Connector highway between Montgomery and Prince George's counties; the magnetic levitation train from Washington to Baltimore; and slot machines at race tracks and select locations in the state.
Dorman opposes all three ideas. He'd rather state money go to more mass transit options and expanded recycling programs. He also has consistently voted against bills making it more difficult for women to have an abortion.