Home builders may have supported Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo early in her term, but as Bobo's reelection campaign neared the home stretch, they threw their weight behind Republican Charles I. Ecker.

"Ten days before the election, we asked {our members} to really get out and volunteer for Chuck and to donate money to him," said Nellie Arrington, chairman of the political action committee of the Howard chapter of the Homebuilders Association of Maryland.

The group, whose members include about 400 firms and individuals in the county, formally endorsed Ecker in August. They donated about $6,000 to the victorious dark horse candidate during the contribution period that ended Oct 21.

They also gave an undisclosed amount after that, Arrington said, picking up bills for newspaper advertising and the like.

And when that second set of contributions is filed with state election officials at the end of the month, it still won't convey the level of builder involvement in Ecker's surprise victory last week.

"Toward the end of October, people put in hours and hours of work, telephoning and organizing," Arrington said. "People gave employees time off from work to go and vote. One individual was giving people rides to the polls."

Why did they support Ecker? Builders put it another way: How could they not have?

"How could they have supported Bobo? It would have been incredible to think that they would after what she did to them," said Jim Schulte, of Security Development Co.

Early in Bobo's reelection drive, builders backed her heavily; a list of her contributors reads like a Who's Who of county developers, and she held a fund-raiser at a prominent developer's house.

But it was hardly a ringing endorsement because no one, including the building community, saw viable challengers on the horizon.

By the end of Bobo's term, builders were angry about all the things the incumbent now touts as major accomplishments: legislation to limit building near wetlands and on steep slopes; the growth controls, which limited the number of new building permits; and the General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for the county's future.

"The county is ready for less confrontation, less shrillness, less of this turmoil," said Schulte, who described the building industry as being "in a total state of collapse."

"The building industry thrives on predictability and stability," he said.

The builders' anger was enough to persuade them to back Ecker, a political novice whose primary experience is as a mid-level county school administrator.

Also, opinion polls conducted by Republicans shortly before the election showed a large number of undecided voters.

"The polls showed that he really had a chance," one development lawyer said.

So, arguing that Ecker would bring stability and security to an industry hobbled by the growth limit and the regional real estate slump, the builders pushed his candidacy.

They sent letters to members, asking them to urge their employees to get out and vote for Ecker.

"I asked them to use the '4-5-6 approach,' " Arrington said. "Ask people to work four hours for a candidate, spend five days of lunch money on a candidate and talk to six people and educate them and get them to vote for our candidate."

Prominent members of other business groups in the county, such as the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Forum, added to Bobo's woes.

People such as former chamber president Beverly Wilhide worked openly for Ecker.

The Economic Forum, a coalition of builders, farmers, real estate brokers and other business representatives, did not take a formal position on the race but criticized Bobo strongly.

When the group, in conjunction with citizens groups, held a public forum for both candidates, their questions seemed intended to grill the incumbent and encourage her challenger. Builders said they didn't endorse Ecker because he would "give us lip service or be in lock step with us," but because he would "hold his own path. Their influence, they said, was not the decisive factor in Ecker's victory.

"We do not think we have 'bought' anything," Arrington said. "It would be a disservice to Mr. Ecker for that impression to be perpetuated."

Are slow-growth advocates worried? Guardedly optimistic might best describe them. Their praise for Ecker focuses more on his style than his substance.

"At least Chuck is making an effort to find out what people are thinking, all different kinds of people," said Bill Smith, a slow-growth advocate who lost his Democratic primary bid to represent the 2nd District on the County Council. "The big question will be: Where will he get his input?"