Palin endorsement lifts little-known candidate in Md.

By John Wagner
Monday, August 9, 2010

Just a few months ago, Brian Murphy's friends would roam the halls of the Maryland State House, practically begging reporters there to go outside for news conferences by the unknown Republican candidate for governor.

Last week, a parade of those scribes lined up to see him.

What changed things was a single unexpected moment: Sarah Palin's endorsement Wednesday of the like-minded 33-year-old business investor from Montgomery County, who is making his first bid for public office against former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the GOP primary.

"What this campaign has always needed is a megaphone," Murphy said, "and Sarah's endorsement gave that to us."

In the 72 hours after Palin's announcement, Murphy braced for a surge in campaign contributions, particularly from out-of-state Palin supporters. The endorsement became the talk of the political blogosphere. Murphy appeared on almost every Maryland TV and radio station.

And he was summoned to New York for an appearance Friday night on a Fox Business channel show on which a panel of guests nodded as Murphy argued that business leaders are best suited to run the state.

Yet as the week ended, the debate in Maryland politics seemed to center not on whether Murphy could win but on how long his newfound fame might last -- and what Palin was thinking.

Since she has come to be revered by the political right, the former Alaska governor has offered endorsements in more than two dozen races across the country, bolstering the fortunes of some candidates but siding with losers in other cases.

It was unclear whether Palin will travel to Maryland to campaign with Murphy before next month's primary. As of last week, the two had never talked directly.

"This got the guy from complete obscurity to seeing his name in the paper, but he's still not a viable candidate," said Larry Hogan, an Annapolis real estate broker who ended an exploratory bid for Maryland governor this year once it became clear that Ehrlich was going to try to win the job back from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). "My opinion last week was that Brian Murphy's campaign was insignificant, and it's still my opinion this week."

For a loyal band of Murphy supporters, Palin's endorsement provided validation of their choice of a conservative candidate so obscure that most independent pollsters have not tested his support against Ehrlich's.

"Several colleagues of mine and people I know had wondered if we were just tilting at windmills here," said George M. Kappaz, a global businessman and former Ehrlich backer who opened his Potomac home for a Murphy fundraiser last week. "But I think Brian is going to surprise a lot of people. My phone has been ringing off the hook from friends all over the country."

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