Candidates Charles Lollar, from left, Ron George and David Craig chat before participating in a debate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Will Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. turn out to have been the last Republican governor that Maryland ever has?

That question was posed during a debate Thursday night to the three men vying to become the next Republican governor of the heavily Democratic state. And, according to the debate’s moderator, the question was based on an assessment made by Ehrlich himself.

Richard Sher, a longtime Baltimore television personality, told the audience at Johns Hopkins University that Ehrlich’s wife, Kendel, is an occasional panelist on his public affairs show, “Square Off.”

The former governor attended a taping about three months ago, Sher said. Off camera, they discussed the future of the GOP in Maryland.

“He predicted that he will be the last Republican governor to ever win in the state,” Sher said to the roughly 200 people attending the debate, whose sponsors included the Maryland Republican Party and the Hopkins College Republicans.

Ehrlich, in a statement relayed through a spokesman Friday, said Sher was not quite quoting him correctly.

“It is difficult, but not impossible, to get elected,” Ehrlich said. “I’m living proof of that.”

The three GOP hopefuls who attended the debate — not surprisingly — said they were confident that whichever Republican ends up on the ballot in November will have a chance at victory.

“Bless his heart, he’s wrong,” Charles Lollar, a Charles County businessman, told Sher.

Harford County Executive David R. Craig noted that he has had a history of upset victories over Democratic candidates, and said Maryland voters are ready for a political change. “They don’t want a third term of this governor,” Craig said, referring to Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), who is term-limited but has endorsed his lieutenant governor, Anthony G. Brown, in the primary.

Del. Ronald A. George (Anne Arundel) concurred, suggesting that even one of Brown’s Democratic opponents, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, “sounds like a Republican businessman” at some of his campaign stops.

A fourth GOP candidate, Larry Hogan, who served in Ehrlich’s administration, did not attend the debate, citing a scheduling conflict.

Ehrlich became Maryland’s first Republican governor in a generation in 2002, defeating then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) by about 4 percentage points. Ehrlich lost his 2006 bid for a second term to O’Malley by 6.5 percentage points. Running again in 2010, Ehrlich lost to O’Malley by more than 14 percentage points.

At the time, Ehrlich and his aides attributed the wider margin of loss to having to compete in a Democratic state that had become even more Democratic since the 2002 election in which he prevailed. This year, Ehrlich has appeared or is scheduled to appear at events with three of the GOP contenders — Hogan, Craig and George — at which he will promote a new book.