Democrats had solid leads last night in Howard County's most-watched legislative battle, where County Executive James N. Robey and a team of delegate candidates were well ahead of Republican state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and GOP hopefuls with more than three-quarters of the votes in.
Schrader appeared to be the only incumbent legislator ripe for replacement late last night.
Robey was cautious, however.
"If it turns out that the numbers hold, it will be because people believe in what I have done for the last eight years," Robey said. Schrader offered no comment last night.
In the western county's Republican stronghold, three GOP incumbents appeared to be in front of two Democrats.
Robey campaigned hard in an effort to undercut the Republican Party's position in Howard by defeating Schrader in a southeastern county district that has 14,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
But Schrader, a popular moderate, ran an energetic campaign in an effort to keep her seat.
The campaign's final weeks became a bitter contest of negative ads and increasingly shrill charges and countercharges.
Schrader held repeated news conferences to protest ads by a Democratic campaign committee attacking her votes opposing a bill that would have allowed over-the-counter sale of the "morning-after" emergency contraceptive. She said the mailings misrepresented her position and blamed Robey, who claimed ignorance of the ads.
Schrader struck back with television ads and hard-hitting mailers that accused Robey of lying about his knowledge of the ads and of having "a pattern of demeaning women," based on incidents in the county Police Department over the past decade.
Schrader and Robey have a history in county politics. It was Robey, the former county police chief, who defeated Schrader's husband, Dennis R. Schrader, to become county executive in an upset victory in 1998.
Democrats fielded a strong slate of delegate candidates in District 13, with incumbent Democrats Shane E. Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner joined by two-term County Councilman Guy Guzzone.
Challenging them were Republicans Mary Beth Tung, Loretta Gaffney and the Rev. Rick Bowers.
"It was clearly the team together," Guzzone said. "The voters realized that together we have a lot to offer, and we can make a difference." In District 12, which covers parts of Baltimore and Howard counties, Democratic state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer appeared poised to fend off Republican Rick Martel.
Democratic Dels. James E. Malone Jr. and Steven J. DeBoy Sr. were ahead of Republicans Joe Hooe and Albert Nalley.
In her west Columbia subdistrict, veteran Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat, was solidly leading novice Republican Christopher Feldwick in the county's strongest Democratic district.
Howard County's other legislative district, covering the western county and a portion of southern Carroll County, is a Republican stronghold, where state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman was running ahead of Democrat Rich Corkran, and Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller led Dave "Oz" Ozmundson.