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Maryland Republicans pick Mooney to lead party

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 7:14 PM

Maryland Republicans on Saturday turned to recently defeated Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick), a staunch fiscal and social conservative, to rebuild the party after last month's loss by its biggest star, former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

Mooney beat four other candidates seeking the party's chairmanship, including Mary D. Kane, Ehrlich's running mate this year in his rematch against Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). Kane, a Montgomery County resident, was widely seen as the more moderate choice for chairman.

In appeals at a state party convention in Annapolis, Mooney, a three-term senator, said that he had demonstrated an ability to raise money and win races, despite his Nov. 2 loss. Mooney said he would use those skills to help GOP candidates win other contests, and he urged Republican hopefuls to stick with their conservative principles.

"I'm the only candidate who's won elections in this race for chairman," Mooney told the 265 party activists. He also touted his refusal to vote for tax increases during his Senate tenure.

Kane, who served as secretary of state under Ehrlich, said that "opinion diversity" was good for the party and that the party must work to broaden its appeal in heavily Democratic Maryland.

"We will show up in places where Republicans are not expected," she promised.

Mooney prevailed over Kane, 362 to 219, on a second ballot. Mooney led but fell short of a required majority in the first round of voting that included all five candidates.

Mooney was immediately sworn in, taking over a party that suffered lopsided defeats in statewide races last month but made gains at the county level in several regions.

Those gains were touted by speakers at the convention Saturday while little was said about a governor's race that O'Malley won by more than 14 percentage points - twice the margin by which he defeated Ehrlich four years ago.

Republican insiders offered somewhat different interpretations of Mooney's victory.

Don Murphy, a GOP consultant and former state delegate, said it suggested that many activists wanted a clean break from Ehrlich, who has dominated the party since 2002, when he became the first Maryland Republican in a generation to win a governor's race.

"Apparently, there's a fair amount of animosity toward Ehrlich world, and Mary was a victim of that," Murphy said.

John Kane, who is married to Mary Kane and served as GOP chairman during Ehrlich's tenure, said he thought the result had nothing to do with Ehrlich.

Instead, John Kane said, the party activists made a "very unfortunate" decision to side with a more conservative chairman. "I believe it's clearly a step back to an uncompromising and uninviting environment that clearly didn't work in the past and won't work in the future," he said.

Before becoming Ehrlich's lieutenant governor pick, Mary Kane had twice sought public office: losing a 2000 bid for Montgomery County Council and a 2002 run for the state House of Delegates.

Mooney succeeds Audrey E. Scott, a former Ehrlich Cabinet official who agreed to serve as chairman during the past year. She finished out the term of James Pelura, who was pressured to resign as chairman because of anemic fundraising and party infighting.

Addressing the convention after the vote, Mooney made an appeal for unity.

"Let's not tear each other down," he said.

Other candidates for chairman Saturday included: William Campbell, the GOP's unsuccessful nominee for comptroller this year and a former chief financial officer for Amtrak; Mike Esteve, chairman of the Maryland College Republicans; and Sam Hale, founder of the conservative group Maryland Society of Patriots.

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