ANNAPOLIS, NOV. 7 -- When he went to bed on election night, Gov. William Donald Schaefer says, he wasn't thinking about his own reelection. He was thinking about the ones not so lucky.

"Some very fine, dedicated, competent, hard-working officials were lost," said Schaefer, Maryland's top Democrat.

Another view, from Maryland Republican Party Chairwoman Joyce L. Terhes: "It shows a vibrant Republican Party in Maryland that concentrated on getting people elected instead of fighting among ourselves."

Schaefer and Terhes are talking about the same significant outcomes from Tuesday's general election. Republicans won two, and maybe three, county executive seats among the six most-populous counties after holding none. They also increased their still sparse numbers in the state Senate and House of Delegates and picked up dozens of local offices.

The local races, as well as Republican William S. Shepard's surprisingly strong showing against Schaefer, served notice that Maryland, one of the most reliably Democratic of enclaves, was moved in 1990 at least a step closer to becoming a two-party state. And the way it happened, coming as voters were in a mood for more financial accountability from political leaders, could supply an important foundation for competitive elections ahead.

As Schaefer lamented the ouster of Baltimore County Executive Dennis H. Rasmussen and the apparent defeat of Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo at the hands of Republican challengers, he noted the clear signals being sent by voters. "That was the tenor of the times," he said.

And though she had worked hard to recruit and train candidates, Terhes as well said Republicans benefited in Maryland from a general anti-incumbent sentiment. "There was a plus for us from the mood of the state and the mood of the country," she said.

Eric M. Uslaner, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, said two currents were at play in Maryland to produce the upsurge in Republican fortunes.

"There has been for a while growth in the Republican Party in Maryland," Uslaner said. "In some cases, this growth just pushed them over the top. But something else that is going on is the anti-incumbent mood. One thing we know: When voters want to punish someone, they punish the person nominally in charge."

Brad Coker, a Maryland-based pollster who worked for Republicans and Democrats this year, said the state had been an unusual Democratic monolith.

"Most states, even the liberal ones, have some suburban Republican pockets," Coker said. "Some of the new people moving now into the Maryland suburbs are Republicans."

Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow played down the GOP strength. "In many areas, the issues were the overwhelming factors in the decisions of the voters," Landow said. "I don't think that it had anything to do with the party."

Republicans have made undeniable progress in registration in recent years, but still are outnumbered by Democrats almost 2 to 1. But they clearly made some progress on Tuesday. Based on the outcome of some absentee vote counts, the GOP may have increased its numbers in the 141-member House of Delegates from 16 members to as many as 28. In the 47-member Senate, the Republican caucus will increase from seven members to nine.

The GOP also gained two seats on the expanded Montgomery County Council after 20 years of Democratic dominance and won two of seven seats on the Anne Arundel County Council, where Democrats have held all seats for two decades.

Besides Republican Charles Ecker's apparent razor-thin victory over Bobo in Howard County, where a tally of more than 1,800 absentee ballots today could affect the results, the GOP picked up an additional seat on the County Council and took control of the councils in Harford and Talbot counties.

Schaefer said neither the Republican gains nor a perceived anti-tax mood expressed by the voters was likely to change his approach to considering tax increases in the coming session.

But that view wasn't universal among Democrats. "Even if {tax increases} weren't dead before the election, I can't imagine many people, especially new legislators, voting for them next year," said Del. Charles J. Ryan (D-Prince George's), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Less certain was whether generally more conservative Republicans in the legislature would affect chances for approval of abortion-rights laws. Advocates said today that, though they fell short of their goal of gaining a two-thirds majority in the Senate, they believe that majorities in the Senate and House, along with Schaefer's recently stated support, will ensure passage of abortion-rights legislation in 1991.

Tuesday's election results, however, do seem certain to cause changes in the future political climate of Maryland. Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer, who lost in the Democratic primary and in a write-in bid, had been on almost everyone's list of potential candidates for governor or lieutenant governor in 1994, along with Rasmussen and Bobo.

At the same time, Republican Robert R. Neall's victory over Democratic County Council member Theodore J. Sophocleus in the Anne Arundel County executive's race made Neall an early favorite for the GOP's gubernatorial nomination in four years.

Schaefer refused to see trouble signs for himself in his 60-40 margin over Shepard.

"I think my election was amazing. I think I got a decisive victory that was not emulated anywhere in the country," said Schaefer, who spent nearly $2.4 million to win reelection while his opponent received $106,000 in contributions.

Schaefer's vote percentage was lower than the reelection shares amassed by former governors Marvin Mandel and Harry Hughes, and Schaefer lost in 12 of the state's 24 jurisdictions. He did poorly in Western Maryland, on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore County, and was forced to rely on newfound strength in Montgomery and Prince George's.

"I think there's a bit of unease in the state about the governor," Uslaner said, "in the sense that he's only been governor for four years, but a lot of people feel he's been around forever."

The Republicans added on member this year, for a total of three of eight seats. COUNTY EXECUTIVES

In 1986, there were no Republican coungy executives amon the six counties with that form of government. In 1990, Republicans were elected in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties.* STATE SENATE

In 1986, seven Republicans were elected to the 47-member state Senate. In 1990, nine Republicans were elected. STATE HOUSE OF DELEGATES

In 1986, 16 Republicans were elected to the 141-member House of Delegates. In 1990, 26 to 28 Republicans ere elected.*

*The Republican candidate in Howard County was leading, pending the counting of absentee ballots, and the outcome of several House races also was to be determined by absentee ballots.