Md. Republicans Ponder Who'll Run Against O'Malley in 2010

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009

It has become one of the most-asked questions in Maryland politics, and it has no obvious answer: If not Bob, then who?

As former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) continues to mull over an attempted comeback, Maryland Republicans are starting to think more seriously about who else could compete next year against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). The prospects so far are hardly household names.

No Republican officeholders have publicly expressed interest in the race, either out of deference to Ehrlich -- who is not expected to make a decision for several more months -- or an unwillingness to risk their seat to run against an incumbent governor in a heavily Democratic state.

The only person to have joined the race is Mike Pappas, a paramedic turned construction industry lawyer from Baltimore County. Pappas, 39, launched an exploratory committee in January. His most visible position in state politics to date has been as parliamentarian of the Maryland Republican Party.

"I will get votes from people who are ready for something completely new," said Pappas, a longtime party activist with roots in South Carolina and Maryland.

A movement -- complete with a Web site -- has also been launched to draft Charles Lollar, a party leader from Charles County who has never held elected office either.

Although the public will not tune in to the 2010 elections for some time, some leading Republicans acknowledge that any serious candidate, with the possible exception of Ehrlich, needs to be gearing up for the race now. It will take time to become known statewide, and raising money in an economic downturn presents a real challenge.

"The party could be left at the altar if we wait for Bob Ehrlich, and I don't think we should let that happen," said Don Murphy, a Republican political consultant and former state delegate who is advising Pappas.

At this time four years ago, when Ehrlich was in office, O'Malley and then-Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) were fully engaged in a competitive Democratic primary. O'Malley had raised about $2.6 million in the prior two years, and Duncan had taken in $1.7 million. Both were traveling the state and jockeying for attention on issues including slot machine gambling and stem cell research.

Republicans see potential vulnerabilities for O'Malley next year. He presided over a large tax increase during the first year of his term, and he has aggressively sought to repeal Maryland's death penalty. Both issues could alienate conservative Democrats, whose support was key to Ehrlich's upset of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) in 2002.

But Republicans are facing a more fundamental problem, which even some Ehrlich advisers privately acknowledge: Since Ehrlich's victory, the party has lost ground in Maryland.

In 2002, Republicans accounted for 30 percent of the state's registered voters. As of March, that figure had dropped to 26.7 percent. Democrats have gained during the same period, from 56 percent to nearly 57 percent.

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