O'Malley, Ehrlich wins set stage for a rematch
Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Tuesday defeated Brian Murphy, a largely unknown Republican primary challenger backed by Sarah Palin, clearing the way for a rematch in November against the Democrat who unseated him four years ago.
In partial returns, Murphy, a 33-year-old business investor, was drawing nearly a quarter of the vote, a stronger showing than many expected against the heavily favored Ehrlich.
In the Democratic primary, Gov. Martin O'Malley defeated token opposition from two candidates whose bids gained virtually no attention. Those candidates also appeared to draw protest votes away from O'Malley, who has claimed progress on education and other issues despite governing during an economic recession.
"I'm looking forward to the next 50 days," O'Malley told reporters at his campaign headquarters in Baltimore.
Appearing at a victory rally at a Baltimore tavern, Ehrlich said he considered the results "a signpost along the way."
"Obviously, we've been focused on November all along," he said.
Murphy, who was catapulted out of obscurity last month by the former Alaska governor's endorsement, ran to Ehrlich's right on issues including government spending, abortion and immigration policy.
With a primary electorate typically dominated by more conservative Republicans, some pundits predicted Murphy could win as much as a third of the vote against the far better-known but more moderate former governor, despite being a political novice.
The "tea party" movement, which has embraced Palin, has not packed the same punch in Maryland as in some states, including neighboring Delaware, where a long-shot candidate stunned the Republican establishment Tuesday night by defeating nine-term Rep. Michael N. Castle in the state's GOP Senate primary.
From the outset, Ehrlich had been dismissive of Murphy, insisting last week that he had not given his bid "one thought" and that he was focused "on ending Martin O'Malley's reign in Maryland."
Palin never came to Maryland to campaign for Murphy, as she has for many of the other candidates she has endorsed across the country. But the 2008 vice presidential nominee recorded a "robocall" that Murphy said rang on the phones of 260,000 likely Maryland primary voters. In it, Palin said Murphy and his running mate were "the only common-sense, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment ticket in the race."
The day before the primary, Ehrlich countered with an endorsement from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee who picked Palin as his running mate.