By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009; B02
James Pelura, the embattled chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, announced Monday night that he will resign, effective Nov. 14, ending a three-year tenure marked by anemic fundraising, slipping registration numbers and clashes with GOP legislators.
Pelura, a longtime political activist and Anne Arundel County veterinarian, hastily left a meeting of party officers Monday night in Annapolis without comment, directing a reporter to talk to others who remained behind. His resignation was later confirmed in a terse news release issued by the party, which said a nominating committee had been formed to facilitate selection of a new chairman.
Republican leaders said they were eager to put a period of infighting behind them as they head toward an election year in the heavily Democratic state.
"Clearly, we have important work to do in the upcoming elections," said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), one of the GOP lawmakers who has sparred with Pelura. "When we're united, we'll be stronger. It's time to get moving."
Pelura's resignation comes at a time when the party has yet to field big-name candidates for next year's races for governor and U.S. Senate and when candidate recruitment for legislative races has also been lagging, according to Pelura's critics.
The pool of candidates considering the race for governor is expected to grow by one Tuesday, when Larry Hogan, a Cabinet secretary under former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), plans to launch an exploratory bid.
Hogan, 53, who served as Ehrlich's appointments secretary, said he will not move forward in the race if his former boss seeks a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). Ehrlich has indicated that he might wait until the end of the year before making a decision about 2010.
"Should my friend Bob Ehrlich decide he wants to run for governor, he will have my enthusiastic support," said Hogan, a real-estate broker who lives in Edgewater. "But he hasn't decided, and I don't have the luxury of time."
Other Republicans looking at the race include Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) and Mike Pappas, a Towson lawyer and former parliamentarian of the state Republican party.
Pelura took over a demoralized party in late 2006, following O'Malley's defeat of Ehrlich.
The Maryland GOP has struggled to stay afloat financially during much of Pelura's tenure. As of mid-January, the last time reports were due, the party had $703.10 in a pair of state accounts. It reported almost $498.58 in a separately maintained federal account as of last month.
By contrast, the Maryland Democratic Party had more than $755,000 in its two state accounts as of January and almost $112,000 in a federal account as of July.
"It's clear that the focus of the party needs to be fundraising, and hopefully that will be the sole focus of the next chairman," said John White, an Annapolis marketing executive who was runner-up to Pelura in 2006 and said he remains interested in serving the party.
The share of registered Republicans in Maryland has slipped from almost 29 to 26.6 percent, and the portion of Democrats has grown from 55 to almost 57 percent. Even small shifts increase the difficulty of winning statewide: In 2006, O'Malley defeated Ehrlich by 6.5 percentage points.
Pelura received no-confidence votes in July from 20 of the 30 members of the GOP's executive committee. In August, he insisted that he was staying put, suggesting many of his critics were motivated by ideology.
Since then, GOP legislative leaders have continued to air questions about Pelura's leadership. In a letter to party leaders last month, O'Donnell and House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington) wrote that they "continue to have a lack of confidence in this chairman," saying he was "falling down on core fundamentals of party-building activities."
And last week came more embarrassing news: Citing the party's ailing finances, the State Board of Elections allowed the GOP to repay a $75,000 debt it owes with an installment plan. If the party fails to follow through, it could be referred to the state prosecutor, the board indicated.