- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) - Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, battling against voter displeasure with the war in Iraq and his ties to President Bush, struggled to try to claim a second term in office Tuesday in a bruising battle with Baltimore’s Democratic Mayor Martin O’Malley.

In scattered early returns, Ehrlich ran ahead of the mayor, but most of the vote was coming from rural areas which are typically Republican strongholds.

With 12 percent of the precincts reporting, O’Malley had 50 percent of the vote or 65,181 votes, and Ehrlich had 49 percent or 63,900 votes.

First Lady Kendel Ehrlich spoke briefly to the governor’s supporters in Baltimore about 90 minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m., asking the crowd to wait patiently and declaring, “We are very confident.”

The governor tried to distance himself from the president and attempted to make the election a referendum on his politically moderate stands on issues such as protecting the environment and supporting embryonic stem cell research. But Democrats were relentless in linking him to the unpopular president and painted him as a tool of monied special interests.

According to a survey of voters as they left polling places, conducted by The Associated Press and the television networks, the link with the national Republican administration appeared to hurt the governor, just as he had been helped four years ago when Bush and Republicans were riding high in the polls.

Nearly two-thirds of voters surveyed said they disagreed with the war, and about three-quarters of them said they had cast their ballots for O’Malley. An even greater majority of those who said they strongly disagreed with the war voted for the Democratic candidate.

In two other statewide races, Democrat Doug Gansler was leading Republican Scott Rolle in the race for attorney general and Peter Franchot, the Democratic nominee for comptroller, was running ahead of Republican Anne McCarthy.

Ehrlich needed a lot of crossover support from Democrats to defeat O’Malley, and some voters interviewed at polls said the governor had won them over.

“I voted for Ehrlich even though I’m a Democrat because I respect his decisions on the environment, education and stem cell research,” Michelle Smith, 39, a prosecutor, said after casting her ballot at a precinct in a waterfront community outside Annapolis.

But Charles Lee, 49, a Baltimore Democrat, voted for O’Malley and said Ehrlich “didn’t do anything for Baltimore.”

O’Malley got enthusiastic support from Judith Aleksalza, 63, a Baltimore Democrat who said he is the best of the seven mayors she’s known. “The city is cleaner, the city is greener, the city is more vibrant,” she said.

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