Like the country, Anne Arundel County is almost equally divided into red and blue factions. The County Council is split 4-3 in favor of Republicans, while County Executive Janet S. Owens is a Democrat. The county's General Assembly delegation is divided 12-9 in favor of Democrats, but a strong majority of Anne Arundel voters -- 65 percent -- went for Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002.

In the Nov. 2 presidential election, the county's GOP was thrilled with what it saw as a strong party victory that should portend good things for Ehrlich when he runs for reelection two years from now. It also means that, politically speaking, Anne Arundel is viewed by both parties as a political battleground.

In the 2006 governor's race, Democrats will most likely win the large left-leaning jurisdictions of Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Baltimore -- as they have in the past. But Republicans think that if they win the outer suburbs in general, and Anne Arundel in particular, they'll hold the governor's mansion.

"Anne Arundel has been for quite a while trending Republican," said Ed Middlebrooks (R-Glen Burnie), the chairman of the County Council. "And I think Tuesday's results demonstrate that."

President Bush's support in the county -- 56 percent to Sen. John F. Kerry's 43 percent -- was greater than the 52 percent he garnered nationwide.

And the GOP had another victory for party leaders to crow about: Two Republican candidates in the Circuit Court judge race knocked off two Democrats, who had been appointed to the bench by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Paul G. Goetzke and Paul F. Harris, both of whom decried lenient sentences and liberal leanings that they said pervaded the current court, were elected to the bench, knocking off sitting judges David S. Bruce and Rodney C. Warren. Democrat Michele D. Jaklitsch held on to her seat.

Purchasing Power

It will make life easier, county officials say, and even save taxpayer money. But county leaders were still surprised that voters on Tuesday approved a charter amendment to allow the county to increase the dollar amount -- from $10,000 to $25,000 -- of goods and services for which the county need not get a sealed competitive bid.

A previous attempt had been rejected by voters. And the county wasn't convinced that voters would go for it this time. The current $10,000 threshold has been the same for the past 22 years, and inflation has meant that many more county purchases are having to go through the costly additional layer of procurement bureaucracy, county officials have said.

The County Council is expected to officially approve the amendment within a few weeks.

Market Vote Postponed

The Annapolis City Council on Monday postponed a vote on whether to allow a high-end food retailer to take over the Market House in the city's downtown. In September, a city advisory commission picked Dean & Deluca to assume control of the historic building, rejecting a Prince George's County property management group that runs the Eastern Market in the District.

The lease for the current tenants runs out at the end of the year. If the council approves, Dean & Deluca would take over in January, renovate the building and possibly open by spring, city officials said.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer has said she hopes the company will make the market the city dock's "centerpiece."

Despite the postponement, city officials remain optimistic about the deal.

"Dean & Deluca made a very strong offer for the lease and are very much looking forward to becoming a part of the city's historic fiber," said Jan Hardesty, a city spokeswoman.