- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday conceded defeat in their re-election bid and run for U.S. Senate, respectively, and extended congratulations to the Democratic victors.

“I have had the ride of my life,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said as rain drizzled on a press conference outside Government House, the governor’s official residence in Annapolis. “We have obviously tried to move the state forward. One thing is for sure: The next administration will inherit a state in very, very good shape. We feel very good about that.”

Mr. Ehrlich turned a $4 billion deficit inherited from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, into a $2 billion surplus while blocking the Democrat-controlled legislature’s push to increase taxes.

However, Mr. Ehrlich’s economic success could not overcome the anti-Republican mood, resulting mostly from the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war and played out across the country in elections Tuesday.

The losses by Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele — combined with Democrats winning the attorney general and comptroller races and adding to the party’s majority in the General Assembly — restored Democrats’ almost total dominance of Maryland politics.

Mr. Ehrlich in 2002 became the first Republican elected governor in 36 years in Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said Mr. Ehrlich’s partisan tactics contributed to his loss.

Mr. Ehrlich pledged a smooth transition for Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley, who has been mayor of Baltimore for seven years.

Mr. O’Malley, joined by Lt. Gov.-elect Anthony G. Brown at a press conference yesterday in Baltimore City Hall, said he appreciated the governor’s offer of congratulations and help in the transition.

The mayor also said he wanted to heal partisan rifts created by the campaign.

“I want to promise to all the people who did not vote for the O’Malley-Brown team that we are going to work just as hard for people who didn’t vote for us,” he said. “The campaign is over. The governing will begin, and we need everybody — Democrats, Republicans, independents.”

Mr. O’Malley won 836,610 votes to Mr. Ehrlich’s 717,476 votes, or 53.2 percent to 45.6 percent, according to unofficial results from the Maryland State Board of Elections.

An hour after Mr. Ehrlich’s concession speech, Mr. Steele acknowledged his loss at a State House press conference.

Mr. Steele said he called earlier in the day to congratulate Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat.

Mr. Cardin won the Senate race with 855,563 votes to Mr. Steele’s 684,618 votes, or 54.7 percent to 43.7 percent, the unofficial results show.

“I enjoyed sparring with him over the past few months,” said Mr. Steele, a Republican who ran neck and neck with Mr. Cardin in polls.

Mr. Steele, the first black elected statewide in Maryland, said he encouraged Mr. Cardin, a 10-term congressman from Baltimore, to “bring to the table so many who have been left on the side. … Don’t forget the poor. Don’t forget those who are trying their best.”

Mr. Steele entered the race a year ago as a rising star in the Republican Party, and he signaled yesterday that his ascent was not finished. He said he “looked forward to continue to build that connection” made with voters.

“For me, the glass is always half full,” he said. “I’m just looking for a way to fill it to the top.”

Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele conceded the election despite nearly 200,000 absentee ballots being counted today. The margin of victory was too large for the ballots to change the outcome, campaign officials said.

An exit poll of 1,540 voters conducted by Edison Media Research/Mitofsky International for the Associated Press also showed voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq war, President Bush and Republicans in general.

Nearly two-thirds of the voters opposed the war, and about three-quarters of them voted for Mr. O’Malley, the survey showed.

The poll also showed that about one-third voted in the Senate race to express opposition to Mr. Bush, with more than nine in 10 voting for Mr. Cardin.

“It was more of an anti-Bush vote,” said Nick Cheseldine, 38, a registered Republican from Baltimore County who said he voted for Mr. Cardin.

About a third of the voters surveyed said the war was extremely important in their Senate race decisions, with nearly three-quarters of them voting for Mr. Cardin.

Mr. Cardin campaigned relentlessly on his vote against the Iraq invasion, which he said demonstrated he “stood up to President Bush.”

Even in the governor’s race, Mr. O’Malley linked Mr. Ehrlich to Mr. Bush, following the national Democratic strategy.

“I think a lot of it obviously was a national wave,” said Alan R. Friedman, a top aide to the governor. “The fact that it was as close as it was is a testament to [Mr. Ehrlich]. He should have been blown out of the park. It is a 2-to-1 Democratic state.”

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