With a 252-vote lead after Tuesday's Democratic primary and about 200 absentee ballots still to be counted, Del. John A. Giannetti Jr. appeared triumphant yesterday in his bid to unseat veteran Sen. Arthur Dorman for the District 21 state Senate seat.
"I'm feeling pretty high," Giannetti said yesterday afternoon. He said he would wait until the absentee ballots are counted today to claim victory, but he was confident he would prevail. The winner of the primary wins the election; no Republican filed to run.
Dorman, however, said he hopes to do well on the absentee ballots - and leaves open the possibility of requesting a recount, if needed, after votes are certified by the state this month.
Already, Giannetti is acting like a winner. He spoke yesterday with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who invited him to a fund-raiser Tuesday for the Democratic state Senate candidates at Baltimore's Harbor Court Hotel.
With all precincts reporting yesterday, Giannetti had 51.5 percent of the vote and Dorman 48.5 percent in the race to represent the district, most of which is in Prince George's County and which also includes part of western Anne Arundel.
Both counties will begin counting their absentee ballots at 10 a.m. today. Anne Arundel sent out 30 absentee ballots, and officials didn't know yesterday how many had been returned. Prince George's sent out 212 absentee ballots, and about 150 had been returned by early yesterday.
"Even if he gets every single one of them, I still win," Giannetti said. "The margin will be razor-thin, but razor-thin still wins."
Neither county has planned to recount the ballots. The candidates will have three days to petition for a recount after the race is certified by the State Board of Elections on Sept. 23.
Dorman said yesterday that he had not decided whether he would request a recount. The 37-year veteran of the state legislature was stunned that the race was so close and at a loss to explain why.
"I don't know," he said of Giannetti's success. "It might be some of his dirty tricks. It could be that people want slot machines."
Dorman said his opponent's "dirty tricks" included misrepresenting Dorman's stand on abortion and giving voters the impression that the 75-year-old wasn't up to the job anymore. Dorman missed 10 of the 12 weeks of the last legislative session because of back surgery.
"He played the age factor," Dorman said. "He played my operation. I thought it would backfire on him, but obviously it didn't."
Dorman opposes slot machines, while Giannetti favors them at horse racing tracks and a few other locations in the state.
Giannetti, an energetic, boyish-looking Washington lawyer, said he never made Dorman's age and health an issue. He said he put his own age - 38 - on his campaign signs because people frequently think he is much younger than he is.
But Giannetti acknowledged that after Dorman attacked his record in the House of Delegates over the last four years - charging that he had accomplished little and stood for less - he came out swinging.
"If people try to throw a stone at me, I'm gonna throw two stones back at them - and they're going to be bigger stones," Giannetti said.
He believes the race turned on his support for the Intercounty Connector, a proposed highway that would run through Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Dorman has opposed the highway, saying more money should be spent on mass transit instead.
"The ICC is probably the key issue in the campaign that caused me to win overall," Giannetti said. "People had just had enough of the 'no-roads' attitude from their senator."
Giannetti also got a big boost from Anne Arundel County. Western portions of the county - including Maryland City, Russett, Piney Orchard and parts of Jessup and Severn - were moved into the district this year.
Giannetti won all Anne Arundel precincts, tromping Dorman by 892 to 579 votes. Dorman said he campaigned aggressively in Anne Arundel, but voters there did not know his name or record as well as voters in Prince George's, where Dorman won by 61 votes, 3,469 to 3,408.
"People who know me voted for me," Dorman said.