Maryland House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D) appeared to have suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of a political novice yesterday, dragged down by a potent turnout of Republicans who helped elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. governor.
Taylor, 67, a Cumberland native and 27-year House veteran known for having drawn massive state investments into the poorest corners of Western Maryland, narrowly trailed Republican businessman LeRoy E. Myers Jr. with 100 percent of the vote counted.
A Taylor aide said late last night that the speaker had not conceded the race, instead waiting for a count of absentee ballots.
Despite an unassuming manner and a wonkish obsession with the finer points of health insurance policy, the former tavern owner managed to cobble together a broad coalition of fiercely loyal supporters in the House -- backers who made him Maryland's longest-serving House speaker.
Last night, many of those supporters were despondent.
"It's tragic to lose someone like Cas Taylor," said Del. Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel), among Taylor's closest allies. "He dedicated his life to public service and to the citizens of Western Maryland. As far as I'm concerned, shame on them."
Ehrlich's broad Republican backing enabled several other political newcomers to topple some of the General Assembly's most respected veterans. Venerable Democratic state Sens. Robert Neall (Anne Arundel) and Walter Baker (Cecil) both lost to opponents who credited Ehrlich's popularity with fortifying their campaigns.
"Ehrlich has done exceptionally well in Anne Arundel County, and I'm certain that helped me," said Del. Janet Greenip, who defeated Neall.
Although Democrats maintained a sizable majority in both state houses, Republicans held key seats in the face of a redistricting map that was working against them. In Howard County, Sen. Sandra B. Schrader appeared to have narrowly defeated C. Vernon Gray, a five-term Democratic County Council member. And Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) dispatched with Del. C. Sue Hecht (D) in the state's most costly legislative battle. Both Mooney and Myers benefited from aggressive campaigning by gun rights advocates.
But Ehrlich's coattails weren't enough to upend two of Maryland's longest-serving and best-known political figures. Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), the prickly former governor and Baltimore mayor, easily fended off a challenge from Gene Zarwell, a perennial Republican candidate. And Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. defeated Baltimore County lawyer Edwin MacVaugh (R).
A few key legislative races were excruciatingly close, including Democratic challenger Rob Garagiola's victory over Republican Sen. Jean W. Roesser in Montgomery County.
Taylor's apparent defeat as House speaker means that the leadership of both houses would be in turmoil between now and January, when they will convene to tackle a $1.7 billion budget deficit, a proposal to expand legal gambling, and any gun control or death penalty legislation submitted in response to the sniper shootings.
A Taylor loss would mean that several key House leaders would likely battle for control of the body. Already last night, Busch was feverishly phoning other House members to build a fresh coalition to support his bid. He is widely considered the favorite.
"It doesn't look like much sleep for me," Busch said. "I don't even know who survived. It's like the aftermath of a battle. We're making field commissions."
Even before any ballots were cast yesterday, the Maryland Senate was headed for a substantial makeover.
The redrawing of district maps earlier this year led to an exodus of veteran lawmakers, including two Senate committee chairmen, and ended the career of a third.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's), who handily won his reelection bid, said he would name his new leadership team later this week, a lineup that is likely to bring substantial new clout to the Washington suburbs.
Montgomery and Prince George's counties each picked up an additional Senate seat in the redistricting process to accommodate a population migration from inner-city Baltimore to suburban Washington. Lawmakers from the two counties will now dominate the ranks of Senate veterans.
Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), one of those who is well positioned to move up in leadership, said the additional Senate seats would force Miller to give the Washington region "a presence in the smallest meetings, where policy is being made, where deals are being cut."
Miller said he would also be looking to ensure that the leadership team reflects likely gains for minorities and women in the Senate.
As for Republicans, major gains in the House, combined with Ehrlich's victory, could mean that they will no longer be a marginal force in the state House.
Democrats outnumbered Republicans 106 to 35 in the House and 34 to 13 in the Senate before yesterday's election. If the latest results hold, Democrats will outnumber Republicans 98 to 43 in the House and 33 to 14 in the Senate.
Busch predicted that Ehrlich's victory would put pressure on Republicans to abandon their historic role as outsiders in Maryland.
"Bob and I are personal friends," Busch said. "But I think that he's going to have to call on his party to do some of the heavy lifting. They can't be the 'I'm against everything' guys anymore."
Former delegate Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery) called Taylor's defeat "both a loss and an opportunity."
"In a Democratic state, we're going to need the legislature to stand up on the environment, education, health care and civil rights, against Ehrlich's political priorities," she said.