ANNAPOLIS, NOV. 7 -- The electorate that put Republican Robert R. Neall into the Anne Arundel County executive's office Tuesday was fed up and fearful, local political leaders said today.

Surveying the Democratic wreckage of a general election in which several Republicans scored upsets, observers here concluded that voters were obviously fed up with rising tax bills and vented their frustration on Democratic officeholders -- both state and local -- whom they perceived as wasteful spenders.

At the same time, voters were fearful of a ballot question aimed at limiting increases in property tax revenue, concluding that it would curtail popular services when the region is facing the prospect of an economic downturn. The measure was rejected.

Voters turned instead to Neall, 42, who had pledged to apply his 12 years of experience as a "waste watcher" in state government to ferrying them through the "tough times" he had predicted.

"People threw out the tax referendum. They said, 'I'll buy that it is poorly written. However, I want to make sure this doesn't get out of hand so I'm going to pick a guy who will cut, cut, cut,' " said Les Cohen, an aide to County Council member Theodore J. Sophocleus, 51, the Democrat who lost to Neall by a slight margin.

Election officials said today that after all but a handful of absentee ballots were counted, the unofficial tally still showed Neall ahead of Sophocleus 51 to 49 percent. Sophocleus, however, had not conceded by last night and might ask for a recount.

As expected, the race broke down along geographic lines, with Sophocleus, a Linthicum pharmacist, capturing a majority of the votes in the County Council's three northern districts, the ones closest to the working-class sections of Baltimore.

Neall, a Davidsonville native, won the four south and central districts that are nearer to Washington and include most of the county's expensive waterfront properties.

Analysts said the outcome seemed to hinge on the surprisingly strong showing Neall posted in areas where Sophocleus needed to win decisively and, conversely, Sophocleus's inability to make up lost ground in territory friendly to Neall.

For example, Neall lost the Glen Burnie area just south of Baltimore by 523 votes, and won the Annapolis area by 785 votes.

"Ted's problem was he was still north county. He erased a lot of that {image}, but people were still asking me, 'What do you think will happen in the south if he is elected?' " said County Council member Maureen Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat who said she was surprised at her own reelection.

Neall, meanwhile, played down the significance of an anti-incumbent mood or regional loyalties.

He instead attributed his victory to the above-average voter turnout generated by the battle over the tax limit.

"Right now, my gut tells me that we did a better job of identifying those people who were likely to vote for us and getting them to turn out to the polls," Neall said.

In the days leading up to the election, many political pundits had described Sophocleus as the candidate with momentum.

They said his populist rhetoric and popularity with senior citizens and environmentalists had eroded the wide lead that the more reserved Neall held in opinion polls for much of the year.

"We were all stunned by Bob Neall's victory. His own exit poll showed him losing by a substantial margin at noon," said County Executive James Lighthizer (D). "I think he has a quiet and invisible bedrock of support that doesn't show up in opinion polls."

For his part, Neall said he also does not hold grudges against the teachers, police officers, volunteer firefighters and other groups that endorsed Sophocleus.

"Ted's contribution to me in this campaign was to show me how strong a bond can be formed when you spend a lot of time in people's neighborhoods and dealing with their very locally focused problems," he said. "I'm hoping to convert some people, to show that I'm a really nice guy too."