An armed police officer stands guard in the lobby of the Annapolis headquarters for Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s transition team. His mission: to prevent hordes of job seekers from overrunning the place.

For the first time in more than three decades, a new party is coming to power in Annapolis. And while the GOP is still giddy over capturing the governorship, Republicans are lining up in droves to exploit Maryland's rich spoils system of political patronage -- a victory prize that Democrats had treated as a birthright.

Just three weeks have passed since the election, but Ehrlich's advisers already have been flooded with more than 1,000 unsolicited re{acute}sume{acute}s from people vying for a job in the new administration. So many people were wandering through the transition team's temporary offices near the State House that the police officer was brought in last week to restore order.

The number of applicants is expected to rise exponentially in the coming weeks as Ehrlich and his aides decide how to reshape the bureaucracy in their favor. "It's crazy," said Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele, who is overseeing the mechanics of the regime change. "We anticipate that we'll get 5,000 re{acute}sume{acute}s, easy."

Already, many of those re{acute}sume{acute}s are coming from Democrats, setting up a philosophical divide in Ehrlich's camp over how to balance rewards for loyal Republicans with the need for officials with experience in state government. "It's a legitimate push and pull between the two sides," Steele said.

To handle the crush of re{acute}sume{acute}s, Ehrlich's transition team plans to unveil a Web site next week that will accept job applications online and streamline hiring. Directing that effort is a White House aide, Katja Bullock, who helped organize President Bush's transition to power two years ago and served as computer manager in the Reagan White House personnel office.

Usually, the election of a new governor in Maryland has meant more of the same: another Democrat in charge, assisted by a bunch of holdovers from the previous administration. While the top staff might change, the rest of the bureaucracy often remained static, or was just shuffled around.

It's been so long since Republicans controlled the executive branch that no one seems to know exactly how many patronage jobs are at stake.

Estimates range wildly, from 500 to more than 5,000 full-time, paid employees who serve at the pleasure of the governor. On top of that: about 5,000 potential appointees to a variety of state boards and commissions, from the Amusement Ride Safety Advisory Board to the Migratory Wildfowl Advisory Committee.

Andrea M. Fulton, executive director of the state Office of Personnel Services and Benefits, said her staff was checking each agency's organizational chart to determine which employees are named directly by the governor, who gets hired by the governor's Cabinet officers and who falls under civil service protection rules. "It's been a long time since we've had to look at this," she said.

Not since 1966, in fact, have the Republicans had the opportunity to take over state government. Even then, their hold on power was fleeting. Governor Spiro T. Agnew left after just two years to assume the vice presidency, and the General Assembly promptly appointed Democrat Marvin Mandel to replace him.

Republican stalwarts, accustomed to defeat, confess that they're still getting used to the novelty of victory. "It's a great day in Maryland to have Republicans calling me for help in getting a state job," said Louis Pope, the state GOP chairman. "I get calls almost every day from people wanting a job and have since Election Day. Some of the people I know, and some I don't know."

Pope said he even gets feelers from hopeful Democrats who want to work for Ehrlich, despite their party affiliation. His response: Show me that you did something to help Republican candidates before Nov. 5.

"People say, 'I'm a Democrat, but I always vote Republican.' " he said. "We get that all the time. What's important is if they played a part in winning this election or helping us in previous elections. Obviously, those are the people we'd like to see rewarded for their work."

Ehrlich has promised to include Democrats and independents in his Cabinet and said it would "reflect all of Maryland." While Republican stalwarts said they could stomach a few Democrats in the administration, some are already worried that Ehrlich might include too many members of the opposition.

Two names that are causing consternation in some GOP circles: Sens. Barbara A. Hoffman (Baltimore) and Robert R. Neall (Anne Arundel), two Democrats who lost their reelection bids. Both are considered experts on the state budget and have been informally advising Ehrlich on how to close the deficit, according to GOP sources.

Neall is a former Republican who switched parties in 2000, and many in the GOP still haven't forgiven him. He didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Conservatives also grouse that Hoffman was too partisan in Annapolis and showed no interest in working with them until after she lost her seat. She confirmed that she has spoken with Ehrlich and his staff about the budget but declined to comment on whether she's interested in a job in his Cabinet.

Steele, who until Election Day also served as chairman of the Maryland GOP, would not discuss any potential appointments, but he sought to minimize any friction between conservative and moderate Republicans. "I can assure Republicans throughout the state that we will not violate any fundamental principles, and that we will stand with those who have been loyal to our party."

He said the new administration hopes to fill more than 100 patronage jobs by Jan. 15, when Ehrlich is inaugurated. He said some top employees -- including some "closet Republicans" already in the bureaucracy -- may be asked to stay.

"One thing I've found is that there are a lot of Republicans who work in this government at very important levels," Steele said. "And that's going to be very helpful to us."

Ehrlich's transition team is focusing its energies on screening candidates for the top Cabinet jobs and may take weeks or months to fill less visible positions, said James T. Brady, who along with Steele is heading up the effort. Brady, a former Democrat turned Republican, served as a secretary of economic development in Gov. Parris N. Glendening's first administration.

"If we don't have some of these jobs filled on January 15, the world will never notice," he said. In contrast, he said, people view Cabinet appointees "as signposts of where the administration is going."

Brady said he has received more than 200 re{acute}sume{acute}s -- via fax, e-mail and the U.S. mail.

He said he's even gotten inquiries from sitting Cabinet secretaries in the Glendening administration. Who might they be? "I'd rather not say," he said with a chuckle.

The transition team for Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. plans to unveil a Web site to handle the crush of re{acute}sume{acute}s and streamline the hiring process.