There was the usual popping of champagne for the winners and expressions of condolence for the losers. But there was another sound in the air after Tuesday's primary elections for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors: sighs of relief.
For many county business and political leaders, the six primary contests capped a spring nominating season in which incumbents and moderates emerged victorious. Earlier, these same observers had made dire predictions of a major reshuffling of the county government, with disaffected voters repudiating mainstream politicians in favor of those preaching a staunch antigrowth, anti-incumbent line.
In the primaries, as in earlier party mass meetings, that scenario did not happen.
"The candidates with the most vitriolic rhetoric were unsuccessful," said Supervisor G. Richard Pfitzner (D-Coles), who is retiring after two terms on the seven-member board. "I take that as a sign of maturity in the electorate."
Kenneth Thompson, president of the Prince William Chamber of Commerce, agreed. "Stability is very important to the people of Prince William, and that was expressed in the primaries," he said.
No matter who wins in the general election Nov. 3, the results are not likely to bring a major departure from the status quo -- a county board whose main goals have been to attract economic development while tempering the traffic problems and other ill effects of growth.
Two incumbents in that mold -- Dumfries Democrat Edwin C. King and Gainesville Republican G. Anthony Guiffre -- on Tuesday held off challengers from their own parties who accused them of too often being acquiescent toward development.
A similar pattern emerged in western Prince William's Gainesville and Brentsville Democratic primaries, where the respective winners -- real estate agent Robert L. Cole and lawyer Norborne P. Beville Jr. -- defeated candidates who took a harsh stance against growth and the policies of the current board.
Nonetheless, the board that will take office next January is certain to have new faces, and possibly a majority of newcomers.
In addition to Pfitzner, incumbents Joseph D. Reading (D-Brentsville) and Donald E. Kidwell (R-Woodbridge) are retiring.
Guiffre's reelection, moreover, is far from assured. Although county political observers expressed admiration yesterday over Guiffre's ability to land on his feet after a difficult campaign against two GOP opponents, his chances in the fall could be hurt by his primary opponents' refusal yesterday to endorse him in his race against Cole.
"I'm not going to help him," said Helen E. (Betty) Duley, who lost to Guiffre by 37 votes out of 1,279 cast in the three-way GOP primary. Duley predicted that most of her supporters "will go with Bob Cole" in November.
John W. Dempewolf Jr., Guiffre's other GOP challenger, said yesterday that he and Duley split the "anti-Guiffre" vote, and added that he will not support the incumbent in the general election.
The Guiffre-Cole race promises to be one of the most closely watched in the fall, with many local political observers predicting that it will evolve into a contest between the Gainesville District's rural and suburban factions.
Guiffre, who lives in the heavily Republican, rural northern end of the district, needs to do well there to counter Cole's strength in the Democratic-leaning neighborhoods near his home outside Manassas, analysts said yesterday.
In Dumfries, King is expected to have a far easier time against independents Norma Pandazides, a federal worker, and Harold H. Dutton Jr., who filed his candidacy less than two hours before Tuesday's 7 p.m. deadline, according to the county clerk's office. King defeated Floyd C. Bagley, county Democratic chairman, in Tuesday's Democratic primaries.
The issues in the general election will be hardy perennials -- vows to control growth, improve roads and push the General Assembly to authorize elected school boards -- many candidates and other observers said yesterday.
But with such similar agendas, voters may have a difficult time telling one candidate from another.
"Everybody's going to be mouthing the same issues," said Pfitzner, adding that some voters may feel they are choosing between "tweedledum and tweedledee."
With slightly less than five months before the general election, here is a rundown of the races in Prince William's five other magisterial districts:
Brentsville: Republican William J. Becker, a retired businessman, is facing Manassas lawyer Beville.
Coles: Republican Party activist Theresa A. Barratt is facing two independents, Terrence Spellane, a federal worker and chairman of the county Planning Commission, and Denis Catalano, also a federal worker.
Neabsco: Democratic incumbent John D. Jenkins is unopposed.
Occoquan: incumbent Democrat Kathleen K. Seefeldt is facing Republican Gregory L. Cebula, who works for a Fairfax County firm called Diversified Data.
Woodbridge: Democrat Hilda M. Barg, a businesswoman, will face Republican Ella Shannon, a member of the county Planning Commission, and independent businessman Edward Rodriguez.