It was over quickly. With a solemn thanks to his volunteers, County Executive Sidney Kramer exited -- at least for now -- from Montgomery County politics, his write-in campaign a quixotic failure that did not produce the "miracle of Montgomery" his supporters had promised.

As his wife, Betty Mae, stood at his side, wearing a corsage of orange pencils, Kramer, 65, conceded once and for all his defeat to County Council member Neil Potter, 75. He made the announcement at his Rockville headquarters shortly after the polls closed and it was clear he would get a small percentage of the vote.

"The best thing about tonight is it's all behind us," Kramer said. "I think only a masochist would look forward to any more of this."

Even so, he wouldn't firmly rule out running for office again. "Now is not the right time to think about that," he said. But there was bitterness mixed with relief that the long campaign is over.

Asked whether he intended to call Potter to congratulate him, Kramer said, "I hadn't even thought of it." Pressed again later, he said only, "I have an obligation to these people here."

Betty Mae Kramer, who had urged her husband to run as a write-in candidate, said she had no regrets about the decision to run.

"We did what we thought was the right thing to do because, quite honestly, we didn't believe in either party's candidates," said Betty Mae Kramer, who refrained from her customary election night singing.

She and her husband will turn their attention to family affairs, she said, including their oldest granddaughter's bat mitzvah on Saturday and a long vacation in Arizona.

For a man who for two decades has been a leader in county politics, who had hinted of a run for governor someday, who at the very least expected to easily win another four years as county executive, the fall seemed sudden and steep.

"It's sad and it's regrettable," said Victor Crawford, a former state senator and Democratic activist who shifted his support from Kramer to Potter after the primary and was dismayed by the write-in campaign. "He was a great county executive, and he had a chance to go out in style."

Kramer's old allies were elsewhere: people like Robert Linowes, the powerful development lawyer who heads the governor's tax commission; elected officials such as state Sens. Laurence Levitan and Ida Ruben and the members of the County Council; once-intimate advisers such as Ed Rovner and Stan Gildenhorn; the influential core of the county Democratic Party.

Instead, most of the 75 supporters who gathered at Kramer headquarters, a former Rockville car dealership, were political newcomers. There was Balbir Seam, a mechanical engineer from Potomac, who said he feared Potter's "short-sighted outlook." There was David Yegher, of Silver Spring, a Holocaust survivor who runs a catering business. And there was Saol Morino, who is 19 years old and left El Salvador two years ago.

But until the last moment, the campaign workers, and Kramer himself, exuded a confidence that seemed almost fanciful considering the odds against a write-in success.

While detractors said that Kramer's campaign was fueled by ego and anger, he said he had only the county's future in mind. "Save Our County!" said the signs posted throughout the campaign hall by supporters who believe that only Kramer, the administrator-businessman, possesses the qualities needed to lead the county through a recession. Kramer maintained that Potter was not up to the job because of his age and his reputation as an outsider.

But even though many Democrats believe that Kramer's career is over, that he cannot recover from his defection, Mike Gildea, the chairman of the county party, said Kramer should not be dismissed as a future power.

"The write-in is so unlike Sid," he said. "It's very unusual and contrary to the game as the Democrats have played it. But I'm sure over time, people will get over it.

"Sid's been such a force for two decades," he said, "and he's helped so many people. He's had four successful years as county executive and quite a good career in public service. I don't think you can count someone of Sid's stature out."