Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) defeated her opponent, former state delegate Phil Bissett (R), by several thousand votes in her struggle to keep the county's top job, according to unofficial vote returns.

Owens attributed Bissett's strong showing to Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s energetic and ultimately successful campaign against Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Twice as many county voters backed Ehrlich than they did Townsend.

"I think Bob Ehrlich had tremendous coattails, and I think Phil benefited greatly from that," Owens said. "But as of right now, I seem to have survived the Ehrlich sweep."

The Ehrlich effect may have also contributed to the ouster of Republican turncoat Sen. Robert R. Neall (D) and Democratic Del. Richard D'Amato.

The general election amounted to a referendum on Owens, who adopted a slow-growth strategy during her four years in office, showing support for tax-rich commercial development while holding back less lucrative residential proposals.

In County Council races, the strong Republican showing in the county contributed to the ouster of two Democratic incumbents.

In District 2, incumbent Democrat Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. apparently succumbed to former state senator Edward Middlebrooks (R). Unofficial vote totals showed Middlebrooks, a well-connected lawyer who served a term on the County Council in the early 1990s, defeating Klosterman by nearly 2,000 votes. Green Party candidate George C. Law also captured a significant portion of the vote, perhaps snatching support from the liberal Klosterman in environmentally conscious Anne Arundel.

In District 3, unofficial vote totals showed Ronald Dillon Jr., a 27-year-old Republican bus entrepreneur, comfortably defeating incumbent Democrat A. Shirley Murphy.

The race for the vacant District 7 seat was among the most closely watched. Five candidates entered the Sept. 10 primary, when incumbent John J. Klocko III was unable to run for reelection because of term limits. In a tragic coda to Klocko's term, the Crofton Republican was killed in a car accident.

Unofficial returns in District 7 showed Republican Edward R. Reilly, an insurance agent, defeated Democrat William A. Rinehart, a retired director of recreation and parks for the county.

Vote totals in District 1 showed Democrat Pamela G. Beidle beat Republican businessman Bob Gouge. Beidle's Democratic colleague in District 4, incumbent Bill D. Burlison, won a closer race against Republican lawyer Michael Malone.

In District 5, unofficial returns gave Republican incumbent Cathleen M. Vitale a convincing win over Democratic construction magnate George Maloney. District 6 Democratic incumbent Barbara Samorajczyk ran unopposed.

In the county's key race for the Maryland General Assembly, Republican Janet Greenip upset incumbent Democrat Robert R. Neall, seizing his District 33 Senate seat. Unofficial tallies had Greenip beating Neall by a comfortable margin.

Some local leaders had predicted that Neall, a former county executive, would suffer from his switch to the Democratic Party in 1999. Republicans stung by the move threw their weight behind Greenip, who has served as a delegate to the General Assembly's 33rd District since 1995.

The bad day for District 33 Democrats continued in the House race, where voters chose two candidates in the north and one from the south. In the north, Republican incumbent David Boschert and newcomer Tony McConkey beat Democrats Steve Rizzi and Jim Snider and independent candidate Michael Anthony Lagana. In the south, unofficial vote totals showed Republican Bob A. Costa winning against Democrat Dotty Chaney.

In District 30, the Democratic incumbent team of Sen. John C. Astle and delegates Michael E. Busch and Virginia P. Clagett managed to preserve their seats against a strong pack of Republicans: Andy Smarick, running for Astle's seat, and would-be delegates Nancy Almgren and Michael Collins. But in another upset, unofficial returns showed Democratic incumbent D'Amato's loss to Republican Herb McMillan.

In the District 31 House race, incumbent Democrat Joan Cadden and incumbent Republican John R. Leopold successfully defended their seats against Democrats Thomas J. Fleckenstein and Mary Rosso, and GOP candidate Thomas R. Gardner. GOP candidate Don Dwyer picked up the district's third House seat, finishing with more votes than Cadden, according to unofficial tallies. In the Senate, Democratic incumbent Philip C. Jimeno defeated Republican David K. Kyle to retain his District 31 seat.