Cardin, O'Malley Win in Md.

By Matthew Mosk, John Wagner and Bill Brubaker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 1:00 PM

Maryland Democrats swept to victory in the major statewide races last night, as voters showed a deep unease about the direction of the country and a strong urge to return the state to its long tradition of Democratic leadership.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who refused to admit defeat last night, said he called Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley at mid-morning to concede the election. O'Malley will become the state's 61st governor.

"Obviously, we disagree with some of the philosophical positions of the incoming administration, but the state of Maryland will live," Ehrlich told reporters shortly after calling O'Malley. "The republic will live another day."

"One thing for sure," Ehrlich added. "The next administration will inherit a state in very, very good shape."

Veteran Democratic congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, meanwhile, won a hard-fought race for U.S. Senate. His Republican opponent, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, who also refused to concede last night, called Cardin late this morning to congratulate him on his victory. Cardin spokesman Oren Shur described the conversation as "brief and cordial."

"I have tried to make a difference as lieutenant governor," Steele said at a press briefing this afternoon in Annapolis. "I asked for six years as a U.S. senator, that's all I ever wanted. But the people thought otherwise and I trust them and their judgment."

Cardin and O'Malley were carried into office by a surge in turnout, including a robust showing from African Americans, widely viewed as the most pivotal Election Day voting bloc.

"For the working families of Maryland, it is time to move Maryland forward again!" O'Malley, 43, said shortly after midnight, after long minutes of deafening cheers from supporters.

Crowds at voting sites slowed election returns, and more than three hours after polls were scheduled to close, long lines of voters in Prince George's County still waited to cast ballots -- delays apparently due to a shortage of machines, not problems with the technology. The two major Republican candidates said last night that those delays allowed enough doubt for them to wait before conceding.

Ehrlich phoned O'Malley around 10:30 this morning. An hour later, Ehrlich came out to the front steps of the governor's mansion, stood in the light for just over two minutes, and conceded the race.

Ehrlich said he concluded that "the absentees may cut the margin but probably not get us where we need to be in the end."

"I've had the ride of my life," Ehrlich said, as first lady Kendel Ehrlich stood at his side with their toddler, Joshua, in her arms. "I've tried to conduct myself with dignity and a little bit of a sense of humor. And we obviously tried to push the state forward."

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