-- Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley raised more than $2 million at a fundraiser Monday night, aides said, displaying some financial muscle as he prepares to run for governor next year.

The event, which drew more than 1,000 people to a club-level lounge at the city's downtown football stadium, underscored how costly the 2006 contest against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is likely to be.

Organizers hoped the evening would showcase O'Malley as the Democrat best-equipped to compete with the governor, who had raised $6.6 million as of January and is widely expected to amass more than $20 million before the race is over.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, another Democrat eager to show that he belongs in the contest, reportedly collected $500,000 in one night in April at a fundraiser in his home county.

Aides to O'Malley said the mayor's one-night haul was unprecedented in Maryland politics. In 2002, Ehrlich took in $1.8 million at a fundraiser featuring President Bush about one month before Ehrlich defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D).

Jonathan Epstein, O'Malley's campaign manager, said: "Raising this historic amount in an evening sends a clear signal that people see the progress Baltimore is making under Martin O'Malley's leadership and makes clear there is overwhelming support for his political future."

A spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, which is working to paint a very different picture of O'Malley's stewardship, pointed Monday to Baltimore's continuing challenges with violent crime, drug addiction, student test scores and homelessness.

"Mayor O'Malley needs to stop campaigning and work on the real issues and promises he made to the people of Baltimore," said GOP spokeswoman Audra Miller.

O'Malley, who entered the reception to the blaring of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising," touted Baltimore's "comeback" but also spoke of "a new battle."

"You know and I know that Maryland's children and Maryland's neighborhoods deserve better," O'Malley told his supporters in the lounge, which offered a view of the downtown skyline.

O'Malley and Duncan enter the race for campaign cash well behind Ehrlich. As of January, when the most recent finance reports were due, Ehrlich had $5.1 million of the $6.6 million available.

Duncan, meanwhile, reported having about $1.5 million in the bank as of January, while O'Malley, who had just been reelected as mayor, had about $1 million available.

"The campaign finance reports filed earlier this year made clear that Doug Duncan is winning the early money primary," said Duncan campaign manager Scott Arceneaux. "We intend to be very competitive in the fundraising arena and will have what it takes to get Doug's message out."

With almost 17 months still remaining until Election Day, the race appears on track to be the most expensive in state history.

The most costly so far was in 2002, when Ehrlich and Townsend raised a combined $19 million. Much of the record $10.5 million raised by Ehrlich did not come in until the final weeks of the race.

Previously, the most expensive race had been the 1998 campaign for governor, in which Parris N. Glendening (D) and Ellen R. Sauerbrey (R) raised about $6 million each.