Annapolis, Md.

Robert Ehrlich says he'll make another run for Maryland governor

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said Tuesday that he will try to win his old job back in November, confirming plans for a much-anticipated rematch with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who defeated him in a bitter contest four years ago.

A formal announcement, planned for next Wednesday in Montgomery County, will set up a rematch between two of the state's dominant political personalities.

Both are fierce competitors. Their 2006 race was highly negative and at times intensely personal, with Ehrlich (R) repeatedly calling O'Malley "a whiner" and running ads that highlighted the homicide rate and struggling schools in Baltimore, where O'Malley was mayor. O'Malley (D) accused Ehrlich of dirty tricks and portrayed him as cozy with energy lobbyists and an unpopular President George W. Bush.

Ehrlich said Tuesday that he plans to run a forward-looking campaign, disputing characterizations of the race as a grudge match.

"The last thing that people want to see is a schoolyard, middle-school, who-struck-John, bully stuff right now," he said. "They want to hear your ideas about how you're going to fix it. They want to hear about your ideas about what you want to do."

Ehrlich will try to take advantage of what he has called "an anti-incumbent, anti-spending" sentiment among voters. But running as an outsider could be a difficult sell for a man who has spent 20 of the previous 24 years in public office, including a stint in Congress.

Still, Ehrlich's entry into the race is a testament to how much the national mood has shifted in favor of Republicans since President Obama's election in 2008. Ehrlich said Tuesday that he concluded back then that he was unlikely to ever win another statewide race in heavily Democratic Maryland but that he has since become emboldened by Republican victories in other states.

"Clearly, the environment did change," Ehrlich said during a conference call with reporters, during which he confirmed plans for an announcement in Rockville followed by an event that evening in his boyhood home town, Arbutus.

The GOP's future

Ehrlich's performance could go a long way toward determining his party's relevance in Maryland. His 2002 upset of then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) ushered in unfulfilled promises of a GOP resurgence in the state, and a loss this year could further demoralize a party that is outnumbered by Democrats in Maryland by more than two to one.

Both candidates are likely to make the economy the central focus of the campaign. O'Malley argues that Maryland will emerge from the recession stronger than most states because of his financial stewardship, while Ehrlich says tax increases and other O'Malley initiatives have hurt the state's business climate.

"There's a real sense of concern about the direction our state is taking," said Ehrlich, who proposed larger spending increases during his four years as governor than O'Malley has. "Our small businesses are getting hit, and they are closing by the thousands. . . . The middle class is struggling under the weight of taxes -- particularly the largest tax increase in Maryland history, imposed on them in 2007."

In a statement issued by his campaign, O'Malley said, "I look forward to the upcoming campaign and a healthy debate about moving Maryland forward."

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