Governor and U.S. Senate Losses Just the Tip of State GOP Collapse

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, elected Tuesday to the Senate, speaks with reporters yesterday morning with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, elected Tuesday to the Senate, speaks with reporters yesterday morning with Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Matthew Mosk and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 9, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Republican Senate candidate Michael S. Steele conceded defeat in quick succession yesterday, putting an end, at least for now, to the state's four-year experiment with two-party government.

As election returns began to solidify yesterday, the scope of the Republican Party's setback in Maryland emerged.

Not only did the GOP lose its coveted hold on the governor's office to Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and cede the open U.S. Senate seat to Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, but the party also lost significant ground in the legislature and dropped key seats in the swing jurisdictions of Charles and Howard counties.

Republicans even saw their last seats in the close-in Washington suburbs slip away: County Council member Howard A. Denis and Del. Jean B. Cryor (Montgomery) both lost.

"It was a wipeout," said Gail Ewing, a former Democratic council member in Montgomery. "I am stunned. Everyone I know is stunned that we have no Republicans left."

Although some chalked up the defeat to the national Democratic tide, the state's ample supply of political analysts said yesterday that other factors contributed.

An array of developments hurt Republicans, including aggressive union activism, an effective Democratic turnout operation, Maryland's shifting demographics and frustration with gridlock in the State House. Steele's pursuit of African American voters fell flat, and Ehrlich's attempts to paint Baltimore as an urban wasteland might have backfired, they said.

Turnout, at an estimated 54 percent, was lower than in the last governor's race but favored Democrats in regions where the Republican ticket led in 2002.

O'Malley attributed that to his campaign's organizational efforts and the help of local officials.

"I knew that we had an army out there in the field," he said at a news conference yesterday afternoon. "That didn't happen by itself."

Neither Ehrlich nor Steele attempted to offer an assessment, choosing instead to dissect their defeats in private and thank their supporters in public.

Ehrlich met with reporters briefly, standing in a light rain in front of Government House, the 54-room mansion where he has lived since becoming the state's first Republican governor in a generation.

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