House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. lost yesterday's election at the polls and was awaiting results of absentee ballots to determine whether his 28-year political career was over.
Taylor's tight race with political newcomer LeRoy E. Myers Jr., a Washington County Republican who runs a family contracting business, dealt another severe blow to Democrats, who suffered losses throughout the top ranks of the party and state government. Unofficial results had Myers, 50, ahead of Taylor, 67, by 139 votes with 500 absentee ballots outstanding.
In the Senate, Walter M. Baker, for 24 years a Democratic stalwart of the tightly held General Assembly leadership, lost a bitter campaign to E.J. Pipkin, a former Wall Street bond trader who raised the stakes in the upper Eastern Shore district, spending more than $430,000 - much of it his own money.
With Baker's defeat, the Senate lost all four of the chairmen of its major standing committees and senior leaders in the Democratic Party.
To make matters worse for Democrats, Sen. Robert R. Neall of Anne Arundel County lost to Del. Janet Greenip, a Republican, and Sen. Diane DeCarlo, who was appointed in July to fill a vacant Senate seat, lost to her Republican opponent, Sen. Andrew P. Harris, who has been in the Senate since 1999.
Democrats, however, were looking to take a Republican-held Senate seat in Montgomery County. Sen. Jean W. Roesser was running neck and neck with Democrat Rob Garagiola, with just a couple hundred votes separating them.
Overall, the legislature will have a new look with Republicans making gains. Election results combined with the effects of legislative redistricting and retirements to produce considerable turnover - much of it the result of changes to the state's legislative district lines.
Political newcomers and some existing public officials seeking higher posts waged war on incumbents with the belief that the new districts would give them their best opportunities to go to Annapolis.
In Howard County, incumbent Republican Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, who has served for about a year after being appointed to the Senate, fended off a tough challenge by Democratic County Councilman C. Vernon Gray. Schrader replaced former Sen. Martin G. Madden, who retired from the legislature after three years in the House and six years in the Senate.
Democrats saw the Schrader-Gray race as an opportunity to capture a long-held Republican seat and increase the number of African-Americans in the legislature.
The race between Baker and Pipkin was the most critical Senate contest.
Baker, the 75-year-old chairman of the powerful Judicial Proceedings Committee, has for years drawn the ire of gun-control advocates and environmentalists for blocking legislation as the leader of the Senate's most conservative committee.
Pipkin, a Dundalk native who made his fortune in the New York financial markets, moved into a waterfront estate on Kent Island in 1999. He quickly earned kudos from environmentalists and others as a leader in a successful fight to block a state plan to dump dredge spoil from shipping channels at a site near the Bay Bridge.
Republicans also claimed all three House seats in the district, defeating two incumbent Democrats: Del. Wheeler R. Baker, who is not related to Senator Baker, and Del. James G. Crouse.
"This is a brand new ballgame, a whole new era for the 36th Legislative District," said Pipkin, gathered with his supporters for a victory party at the Holiday Inn Express near Kent Island. "We swept all four counties. This is now a Republican district."
Reached at his headquarters in Elkton, Baker declined to comment.
Riding a wave of anti-incumbent sentiment that swept local officials from office in Queen Anne's County in the September primary, Pipkin gained momentum from Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich's strong showing in the sprawling district that also includes Kent, and portions of Caroline and Cecil counties.
Pipkin, 46, ran a vigorous 15-month campaign that relied as much on old-fashioned personal contact - including hundreds of appearances and, he says, knocking on 10,000 doors throughout the largely rural district - as on expensive television advertising and direct mail.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening attempted under his redistricting plan to ensure that current Democratic leaders remained in power, his party's numbers increased and minorities gained more seats in the legislature.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals in June ruled Glendening's redistricting plan unconstitutional and decided to draw its own legislative district map.
The court's legislative districts increased opportunities for minorities and women in the General Assembly. It was unclear last night how many women and minorities won.
But some of Glendening's other goals suffered severe blows. With Baker's defeat, the Senate lost all four of its major standing committee chairmen, two of them to retirement and two to election challenges.
Three of the chairmen represented Baltimore or at least part of the city: Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the Senate majority leader and longest serving African-American in the legislature's history, who is retiring; Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the powerful head of the Budget and Taxation Committee who was defeated in the primary; and former Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, chairman of the Finance Committee who also retired.
The House of Delegates did not suffer the kinds of leadership losses the Senate did, but the redistricting gave the House's top official his toughest general election battle in years. The court's legislative map moved Taylor, who held the top post in the House since 1994, from a district in which he would likely have run unopposed into a contest with Myers, a popular GOP in Washington County.
"We're very happy," Myers said. "To be honest, I think the people in western Washington County do not look at him as valuable as he's made out to be."