Robert A. Pascal had looked forward to yesterday morning for months. No schedule. No briefings. No handshaking. No cadre of advisers spewing political stratagems at him. The Republican nominee for governor said that even the sting of the first political defeat of his life -- and a resounding one at that -- could not diminish the relief he felt on his first day in political retirement.
"I'm going down to my farm and meet three or four guys," he said sipping a cup of coffee. "We're gonna put some venison on the charcoal, have a light beer or two and talk about any subject but politics."
He smiled. Twelve hours after conceding victory to incumbent Democrat Gov. Harry Hughes, Pascal said he felt more relieved than crushed. After a dozen years as a local official in Anne Arundel County, his attempt to move up to the state level had failed. At 48, the thought of political oblivion did not seem to disturb him.
"Run again?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't think now is the time to talk about it. I can't be objective. For the last few months my life has been people giving me a piece of paper and telling me what to do. I want to try the normal life for a while, do what I want to do. I want to go get some geese."
When he announced his candidacy, Pascal, elected county executive twice by large margins in a county whose Democrat-Republican ratio was similar to the statewide registration, was viewed by GOP leaders as the man who would unite the party and become the first Republican governor since another county executive, Spiro T. Agnew, was elected in 1966.
Instead, the Pascal candidacy has apparently left the party in disarray. Party loyalists from around the state were confused and angered because they were taken for granted by Pascal and because he took so long in organizing statewide.
"We're back to square one after this election," said Republican Party chairman Allan C. Levey, who lost his own race for the state senate in Montgomery County to Sen. Laurence Levitan. "We had two good candidates Pascal and senatorial nominee Lawrence J. Hogan who the party had a lot of faith in going in and we lost both elections by wide margins. That means we have to start over."
But Pascal's mind was far away from the problems the Republicans face when he padded downstairs shortly after 9 a.m. yesterday, dressed in a work shirt, blue pants and blue slippers. He looked tired, but when he reached the kitchen, he found himself surrounded by family: wife Nancy, his mother, his sister, an uncle, a cousin, a daughter, several nieces, several nephews. Pascal's tired face lit up and there were hugs all around.
Nancy Pascal was dragging garbage out the front door. "Elections come and go but garbage just keeps coming," she said with a laugh.
"This is why I can handle what happened last night. No problem," he said, sweeping a hand toward his relatives. "I didn't lose, the other fella just got more votes than I did. That doesn't mean I'm not right. It doesn't change the way any of these people feel about me. One thing my daddy taught me, you get in a ballgame, you play as hard as you can. But when it's over, it's over. No bellyaching or excuses. Don't dwell on it, move on from there."
Pascal didn't offer excuses for his defeat, nor did he offer answers to the questions that plagued his campaign from the beginning: Why did his fund raising never take off? Why did he seem to avoid the Washington area even though he knew he had a serious recognition problem there? Why did he wait so long to loan his campaign money ($100,000) when his advisers told him right after the primary that the money would only be useful if it were contributed right away?
"I suppose we should have spent a lot more time in Prince George's and Montgomery," he said. "We never got the money to do the media down there and we obviously didn't reach enough people ourselves. As for the money, listen, there's always a lot of people willing to give free advice when it concerns somebody else's money."
Hughes' victory was so complete that Pascal was put in the position of declaring that the 38 percent of the vote he got constituted a moral victory in light of polls that had predicted he would finish with less than 30 percent.
"I would feel worse about losing if I hadn't given it everything I had, if I had rolled over and played dead," he said. "At one point right after the polls had come out after the primary I was ready to do that."
Pascal remembered walking into the kitchen one night in late September with a hang-dog look. "She just looked at me and said, 'You can't quit. If you do, you'll never forgive yourself because it isn't you.' That was some of the best advice I've ever gotten."
Now, out of office for the first time in 12 years, what would he do?
"Well," he said, his light blue eyes dancing in anticipation, "tonight, I'm gonna put on my down goose-hunting jacket and go into St. Michael's with some friends. I won't shake any hands, I'll just have fun.
"After that, I don't know. I might concentrate on making some money. I might travel. Or maybe they would take me back at the Green Hornet Little League where I used to coach football. I really enjoyed that."
He had one more thought.
"You know what my Uncle Jerry said to me last night? He said the kids back home on the corner in New Jersey would be proud of me."
Pascal smiled. As long as the kids on the corner were proud of him, political oblivion didn't seem so bad.