- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin was leading Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in the U.S. Senate race last night, even though many news agencies reported that Mr. Cardin had won, based on exit polls and previous voting patterns.

With 1,314 of 1,793 precincts reporting, Mr. Cardin, a Democrat, had 572,296 votes, or 52 percent, and Mr. Steele, a Republican, had 509,765 votes, or 46 percent.

Similarly, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. trailed Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley in a tight contest, although news agencies projected Mr. O’Malley as the winner. With 1,252 of 1,793 precincts reporting, Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, had 523,413 votes, or 50 percent, and Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, had 502,747 votes, or 48 percent.

Elections officials reported high voter turnout yesterday and few of the problems with the state’s electronic voting system that had marred September’s primaries. At his campaign’s event at the Visionary Arts Museum in downtown Baltimore, Mr. Cardin thanked his supporters in a presumptive victory speech.

“How sweet it is,” said Mr. Cardin, as his supporters cheered in the third-floor ballroom.

“I’ve always said it’s not about me. … It really is about the people of Maryland, and I am humbled that they have given me the opportunity to be their United States senator.” Mr. Steele, however, refused to concede.

“I am not giving up this fight,” Mr. Steele told a crowd of supporters at his campaign event at the Comfort Inn in Bowie. “I still have a lot of fight in me. They don’t call me Steele for nothing.”

“Tonight nothing is going to be decided,” said Alan Fabian, Mr. Steele’s finance chair.

“We’re going into overtime.”

When Mr. Fabian spoke just before 1 a.m., Mr. Steele was down by about 60,000 votes, with 75 percent of precincts reporting. Steele aides said they thought they could gain a roughly 60,000 vote edge from the 200,000 or so absentee ballots.

Minutes later, however, Associated Press returns showed Mr. Cardin pulling ahead by over 100,000 votes, as Baltimore city numbers came in.

Steele aides then admitted that things did not look good. Lower than expected support in Prince George’s county — about 23 percent, instead of an expected 30 percent — was to blame, aides said.

At Baltimore’s Hyatt Regency Hotel, Mr. Ehrlich refused to concede and noted that a record number of absentee ballots still need to be counted.

“We’re going into overtime,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “We always win in overtime, right.” The mood was jubilant at O’Malley headquarters at the Hippodrome Theater.

In his victory speech, Mr. O’Malley thanked his supporters, telling them that his late father had a saying for such moments.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but always you try,” Mr. O’Malley said. “Well, tonight, Dad, we tried and we won.”

In other statewide contests, Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, a Democrat, was expected to defeat Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott L. Rolle, a Republican, in the attorney general race.

With 1,252 of 1,793 precincts reporting, Mr. Gansler had 591,302 votes, or 59 percent, and Mr. Rolle had 409,410 votes, or 41 percent.

Meanwhile, Delegate Peter Franchot, Montgomery County Democrat, was expected to win the election for comptroller, succeeding William Donald Schaefer, whom Mr. Franchot defeated in the primary.

Mr. Franchot was vying with Republican nominee Anne McCarthy, dean of the Merrick School of Business at the University of Baltimore. With 1,252 of 1,793 precincts reporting, Mr. Franchot had 575,509 votes, or 57 percent, and Miss McCarthy had 430,047 votes, or 43 percent.

The final results of close contests might not be known until late this week or next week, because voters have requested nearly 200,000 absentee ballots, which elections officials will begin counting tomorrow.

Mr. Steele, the first black elected statewide in Maryland, and Mr. Cardin, a white 10-term congressman from Baltimore, had been locked in a neck-and-neck contest in which racial politics dominated the campaign.

Black voters, who traditionally support Democrats and make up nearly of third of Maryland residents, had their party loyalty tested this year by Mr. Steele.

Prominent black Democrats in majority-black and heavily populated Prince George’s County — including former County Executive Wayne K. Curry, all five black county council members and scores of minister — broke party ranks last week to endorse Mr. Steele.

Republican inroads forged to black communities by Mr. Steele and Mr. Ehrlich helped make their party competitive for the first time in a generation in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1. Mr. Cardin had to struggle to woo black voters amid criticism the Democratic Party takes them for granted.

Still, Mr. Cardin benefited from the national anti-Republican mood. The congressman campaigned relentlessly on his vote against the Iraq invasion that he said demonstrated he “stood up to President Bush.”

The anti-Bush battle cry energized the state’s Democratic faithful and disillusioned independent voters. Mr. Cardin was competing with Mr. Steele to replace Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a longtime Democrat who is retiring.

Mr. Sarbanes’ son John, a Democrat, won the election to replace Mr. Cardin in Congress, representing Maryland’s 3rd District.

In the governor’s race, Mr. O’Malley also tried to link Mr. Ehrlich to Mr. Bush.

This national Democratic strategy for the midterm election had potential for great effect in left-leaning Maryland, where the war and Mr. Bush are extremely unpopular.

The mayor also played to that liberal vein with a populist platform, saying that he cared about “working families” and that Mr. Ehrlich sided with big business to raise energy rates and oppose a higher minimum wage.

However, Mr. O’Malley also contended with growing concerns that Baltimore’s rampant crime and poorly performing public schools showed that the mayor was unprepared to lead the state.

Mr. Ehrlich asked voters to compare his state record to Mr. O’Malley’s record in Baltimore. The governor also touted his turnaround of state finances, from an inherited $4 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus while blocking the Democrat-controlled legislature’s attempts to raise taxes.

In the attorney general race, Mr. Gansler was vying to succeed retiring Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., a fixture of state Democratic politics who held the state’s top law-enforcement job for 19 years. Mr. Rolle ran on a get-tough-on-crime message.

Mr. Gansler was likely to benefit from name recognition in the D.C. suburbs, which are home to two of the state’s most populous and heavily Democratic counties. But he had to weather a court challenge to his eligibility to run for attorney general, which he won in the state’s highest court in the waning days of the race.

In the comptroller race, Mr. Franchot’s primary victory in September unseated Mr. Schaefer, a political icon with 40 years in elected office including a 16-year stint as Baltimore mayor and two terms as governor.

• Steve Hirsch and Greg Lopes, both in Baltimore, contributed to this report.

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