Incumbents prevailed in Charles County's local and legislative races on Tuesday, with Democrats Wayne Cooper and Sally Jameson nabbing the only open seats in the county commissioner and delegate races.

At the same time, 52 percent of voters signaled they were ready for a change in the county's form of government by supporting code home rule. The five commissioners now will have more power to enact certain kinds of local laws -- such as establishing excise taxes or nuisance abatement -- without action by the Maryland General Assembly.

"The message that I received is that people are satisfied with the course we're on," Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) said of the strong showing by incumbents. "The code home rule passage is a clear indicator that people are satisfied."

District 2 winner Cooper, who opposed code home rule, will be the lone new face on the Board of Commissioners when the term begins next month. He will replace Commissioner James M. Jarboe (D-La Plata), who ran instead for state delegate and lost. Incumbents Levy, W. Daniel Mayer (R-La Plata), Allan R. Smith (R-Waldorf) and Robert Fuller (D-St. Charles) all won their races by comfortable margins.

Cooper won 55 percent of the vote in his race against Republican John D. Rutherford, whom Cooper credited with running a solid campaign. Local political observers said Cooper's name recognition and respect gained from his six years on the Board of Education gave him the edge over Rutherford, who also had longtime ties to the county.

Exhausted but excited after his win, Cooper said he would begin orienting himself with county departments this week to catch up to his new colleagues.

"I'll do the best I can and stay focused on what I campaigned on and be a promise-keeper," he said.

As for code home rule, which failed to pass in Frederick County, making Charles just the sixth county in Maryland to adopt this form of government, Cooper said, "The voters have spoken. I will honor their requests . . . [and] put quality into it."

Some Democratic leaders and community members were disappointed by Reginald Kearney's loss to Smith in District 3. Kearney was the only African American commissioner candidate, and many organizations had worked to energize minority voters and to push for a more diverse board.

Kearney garnered almost 300 more votes in District 3 than Smith. However, Smith won more votes outside Waldorf in the countywide voting. Commissioner candidates run from the district in which they live, but voters from all over the county cast ballots in every district race.

The power of the incumbency, the Republican gubernatorial victory and the lack of minority voter participation all contributed to Kearney's defeat, said Cecil Short, a Democrat who moderated the four candidate forums held by a consortium of African American organizations.

Short said getting out the vote "must be the top priority in the minority community." He said Kearney's candidacy and the consortium's forums did help raise awareness among current leaders about the needs of the minority community.

Smith said he wants to look at the housing needs of some of the poorest residents in rural Nanjemoy, an issue raised by black residents throughout the campaign.

Smith said he was gratified to be elected by the voters after originally being appointed to office.

"It's a wonderful feeling," Smith said. "I'm going to reward their trust and confidence with my passion and improving the quality of life for all people like they've never seen before."

Charles County had a 57 percent voter turnout, according to unofficial results.

In the legislative races, Sally Jameson (D) became the second woman to win a delegate seat in Charles; Loretta Nimmerrichter, elected in 1966, was the first. Jameson had the second-highest vote total in the contest to elect three at-large delegates from Charles. In her first bid for a state office, Jameson beat Jarboe and two Republican challengers for the spot that opened up when Del. Samuel C. Linton (D) lost in the primary election.

Jameson estimated that her campaign team knocked on 15,000 voters' doors, and she gained support from prominent party leaders who didn't extend the same hand to Jarboe.

Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Charles), who was one of Jameson's chief advocates, said her confidence, knowledge, experience and local roots boosted her above her competitors. "She just had a broad base appeal," he said.

Middleton won his reelection bid, then scored a second achievement Thursday when Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's and Calvert) named him chairman of the senate Finance Committee, which deals with fiscal policy and issues such as banking regulations and health care.

Middleton said the chairmanship and the strong standing of Del. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins (R) with Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) were important advances for Southern Maryland. Hutchins and Del. Van T. Mitchell (D) were reelected, with Hutchins securing the most votes in the delegate race.

Election officials Fern Brown, left, and Dorothy Duffield count absentee ballots. State's Attorney Leonard C. Collins Jr. (D) held a narrow lead over W. Louis Hennessy after all votes were tallied.Charles County election worker Jim Anderson looks over an absentee ballot before feeding it into the counting machine Thursday in La Plata.