- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Before Tuesday’s elections, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — Maryland’s first Republican governor in more than 30 years — said that his party would revert “back to irrelevancy” if he were to lose his re-election bid.

Hello, irrelevancy.

Mr. Ehrlich lost to Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat.

Republican losses in every statewide race and the state legislature have party leaders contemplating their diminished stature and reviving old strategies to challenge the Democratic Party’s control of state government.

“The Republican Party will live to give voice to conservatives and moderates in Maryland,” said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “It’s important to have that voice to temper the penchant of single-party monopolies to do whatever they want.”

Senate Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, said the election set his party back to where it was under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the two-term Democrat who preceded Mr. Ehrlich.

“In 2010, I think voters will be presented with a stark contrast between tax-and-spend leadership in Annapolis, which they’re about to get, as opposed to fiscally conservative leadership, which they’ve seen over the past four years,” Mr. Harris said.

Mr. Ehrlich turned a $4 billion deficit he inherited into a $2 billion surplus while blocking the Democrat-controlled legislature’s push for higher taxes, he noted.

“In my heart of hearts, I’m hoping that Governor Ehrlich keeps his options open,” Mr. Harris said. “I think that after four years of [Mr. O’Malley], people will want to return to the good old days of Governor Ehrlich.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said his party would not abuse its power and would “include everyone.”

“We understand we are in control,” he told reporters after Election Day. “But you can do that from a benevolent standpoint. … Having power doesn’t mean you have to use it to a definitive end to punish people.”

He said the General Assembly needs “passionate debate.”

Republican leaders said national issues rather than dissatisfaction with Mr. Ehrlich fueled the vote in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.

“It was a referendum on the president and national issues,” said Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party. “To lose the incumbent delegates we did was a message to Washington. People voted a straight Democratic ticket. Republicans crossed over.”

Mr. O’Donnell called the voters’ decidedly anti-Republican bent a “national tidal wave.”

The scope of the election losses extended far beyond Mr. Ehrlich’s re-election bid.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, handily won the race against the Republican nominee, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele.

Democrats also won the races for attorney general and comptroller.

Republicans expect to lose as many as eight seats in the House of Delegates, which would give the Democrats a 3-1 advantage in the legislature.

Republicans also stand to lose a seat in the Senate — Sandra B. Schrader of Howard County lost in a landslide to Democrat James N. Robey — shrinking their minority to 13 of 47 senators.

Absentee ballots could decide a couple of close races.

“Going forward, there obviously has to be restructuring,” Miss Miller said. “It’s going to be a question of what Marylanders want. For the next four years, again, they will have the opportunity to see what one-party control of the government can do.”

Part of the restructuring will include a new party chairman.

Chairman John M. Kane is expected to announce his resignation next month at the party’s state convention.

Mr. Kane had said he would serve a single four-year term when he took the job in 2003. Results from the election Tuesday likely reinforce his decision to leave.

Party insiders have mentioned as successors Republican National Committee member Louis M. Pope, a Howard County real estate agent, and state Republican Party counsel Dirk Haire, an Anne Arundel County lawyer.

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