Cardin, O'Malley Win in Statewide Democratic Wave
By Matthew Mosk and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; A01
Maryland Democrats swept to victory in the major statewide races last
night, as voters showed a deep unease about the direction of the
country and a strong urge to return the state to its long tradition of
Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was elected the state's 61st governor,
and veteran congressman Benjamin L. Cardin won a hard-fought race for
U.S. Senate. Both were carried into office by a surge in turnout,
including a robust showing from African Americans, widely viewed as the
most pivotal Election Day voting bloc.
"For the working families of Maryland, it is time to move Maryland
forward again!" O'Malley, 43, said shortly after midnight, after long
minutes of deafening cheers from supporters.
Crowds at voting sites slowed election returns, and more than three
hours after polls were scheduled to close, long lines of voters in
Prince George's County still waited to cast ballots -- delays
apparently due to a shortage of machines, not problems with the
technology. The two major Republican candidates said those delays
allowed enough doubt for them to wait before conceding.
"We're going to overtime," Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. told supporters
in an eight-minute speech made shortly after midnight. He advised them
to "stay tuned" as absentee and provisional ballots are counted over
the next several days.
But large swaths of the uncounted ballots came from the Democratic
strongholds of Montgomery and Prince George's counties and Baltimore,
leaving it all but certain that Ehrlich would be the first incumbent
since 1951 to be unseated after one term.
Republican Senate candidate Michael S. Steele also pleaded for patience
from his backers, but returns that had been counted last night
suggested the affable lieutenant governor had made only narrow inroads
with the voters he tried hardest to persuade, African Americans. Exit
polls showed blacks voted for Cardin by a 3 to 1 ratio.
Across the board, Democrats appeared headed for victory. Montgomery
County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler easily prevailed in the race
for attorney general, and Montgomery Del. Peter Franchot won the job of
comptroller, the state's chief tax collector. Montgomery swept in Isiah
"Ike" Leggett as the county's first African American county executive,
and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson breezed to
Lawyer John Sarbanes (D), son of retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes
(D-Md.), won Cardin's 3rd District seat, defeating Republican John
White. The rest of Maryland's congressional delegation won easy
victories last night.
Even in key state legislative races, including five targeted by
Republicans, Democrats came out ahead, and the party appeared to have
gained at least one Senate seat in Howard County.
After more than a year of political jockeying, primary skirmishes,
television ads, endorsements and massive turnout efforts, the outcome
in Maryland appeared to boil down to one central fact: The state is
home to nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
In a year when Democrats have a brisk national gust at their backs,
even an incumbent as popular as Ehrlich, in a state that's enjoying
general economic well-being, appeared unlikely to return for a second
"Maryland is blue," said Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), the
state's longtime Senate president.
Exit poll results suggested that national issues were moving Maryland
voters, especially in the U.S. Senate race. Nearly two-thirds of Cardin
supporters surveyed, for instance, said they were casting their vote to
send a message to President Bush.
Cardin, 63, said in an interview that although the race was a
referendum on such national issues, the choice in Maryland was in many
ways about the candidates themselves and about what he said was
Steele's unwillingness to engage on issues.
"It came down to the fact that voters know me," he said. "They know my
record, and they felt comfortable with the way I make decisions."
In the governor's race, Ehrlich could not maintain the level of support
he garnered in 2002 from the state's moderate Democrats. And in an
unusual twist, his defeat did not appear to stem from any discontent
about his performance; many who rated the state's economy as strong
"In fairness, I think Ehrlich governed as best he could under the
circumstances," said Thomas F. Schaller, a political science professor
at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "The problem is he won
in a very good cycle against a weak candidate and had to run for
reelection against a very strong candidate in a bad cycle for
Republicans. It shows how difficult it is in Maryland, even when you
govern down the middle, to pull a rabbit out of a hat."
All four candidates in the marquee races crossed the state yesterday,
trying to smoke out, cajole and, in some instances, deceive their way
into every possible vote. The final hours of campaigning offered a
dramatic climax for two of Maryland's most competitive and costly
At stake, beyond the individual races, was the fate of a Republican
attempt to solidify the party's narrow foothold in Maryland, a state
that has been dominated by Democrats for more than a century.
Four years ago, when Ehrlich was elected the state's first Republican
governor in a generation, he declared, "Our time in the desert is
over." His reelection and Steele's claiming of an open Senate seat were
considered the next steps in establishing a real two-party system in
The Senate contest put the spotlight on Steele, who employed off-beat
ads, his Washington Rolodex and likable persona to mount one of the
most vigorous challenges his party has offered in pursuit of a U.S.
He faced Cardin, a 10-term congressman from the Baltimore area and
consummate political insider, whose campaign focused as much on Bush
and the Iraq war as it did on his own agility with complex national
During the campaign's closing weeks, the messages from all four camps
grew increasingly coarse, as each candidate tried to break through in
what polls were presenting as tightening contests. The vitriol played
out largely on television -- with more than 15,000 ads at a cost of
nearly $18 million airing in the Washington and Baltimore markets in
the weeks since the Sept. 12 primary.
On Monday, Democratic leaders upbraided Ehrlich and Steele for fliers
that suggested that the two Republicans had gained endorsements from
three black, Democratic leaders.
Anger over the fliers compounded yesterday, when Democrats discovered
that the GOP campaigns had bused in poll workers from Philadelphia to
pass out the literature at voting precincts in Prince George's County
Although both contests remained competitive, the general
anti-Republican mood pervading the nation began to weigh on Ehrlich and
Steele, who tried to tap national GOP connections for money while
trying to avoid an affiliation with Washington as the climate worsened
for their party.
"It's been a huge obstacle for them," said Ronald Walters, a politics
professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. "The war,
especially, has been made it very hard for either of them to pick up
traction in this environment."
Voters who said the Iraq war was extremely important to their decision
supported Cardin by a 3-1 ratio, exit polling showed.
The governor's major advantages during the campaign were tied to his
incumbency. For one, he spent most of his time on the road as Gov.
Ehrlich, not candidate Ehrlich. Miller, the state Senate president,
said that "four years of handing out grants and cutting ribbons" helped
Ehrlich maintain high marks for popularity in opinion polls.
His stature also helped him raise more campaign cash than O'Malley,
taking in what insiders said was roughly $18 million. O'Malley's
fundraising consultant said she expects him to reach about $14 million
The money edge helped him keep his advertising on television for
months. He put up a barrage of ads highlighting crime and
low-performing schools in Maryland's largest city. That enabled him to
turn the governor's race into a referendum on the two candidates'
records, saying he had been an agent of change in Annapolis while
Baltimore had languished.
As a result, despite holding a consistent lead in polls, O'Malley often
appeared on the defensive, trying to persuade state voters that he had
a solid record of progress tackling urban woes. At the same time, he
attempted to portray Ehrlich as out of touch with working-class
Against this backdrop, the governor's former political partner launched
his campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S.
Steele, the former chairman of the state GOP, campaigned as an
independent force who would stand up to both parties. He showcased his
charismatic personality more than any specific policy issue as he tried
to sway black Democrats to ditch their traditional party affiliation.
Throughout the campaign, Steele, who has just four years in elective
office, tried to turn his opponent's combined 40 years in Annapolis and
Washington against him. He cast Cardin as an insider incapable of
changing the status quo on Capitol Hill and out of touch with "real
Cardin, in turn, tried to make the contest a referendum on Bush and the
war. Perhaps the most pivotal weapon in Cardin's arsenal was his
initial vote against sending troops to Iraq. In his commercials,
mailings and appearances, he told voters he "stood up to President Bush
on the war" and reminded them that Steele had consistently supported
the war. He painted Steele -- accurately -- as a man recruited and
partially bankrolled by the president's allies.
The two marquee races overshadowed several down-ticket contests that
ushered a new set of leaders into some of the state's key posts.
Franchot (D), a state delegate from Takoma Park, charged into the
general election after an unexpected primary win over incumbent William
Donald Schaefer, the former Baltimore mayor and two-term governor
widely viewed as the state's political patriarch. He faced Anne M.
McCarthy (R), the first woman dean of the University of Baltimore's
Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney, ran to replace 20-year
Democratic incumbent J. Joseph Curran Jr. as attorney general, pledging
to put the office in a more aggressive posture to fight environmental
crime and white-collar fraud. His opponent, Frederick County State's
Attorney Scott L. Rolle (R), campaigned as a crime fighter who would
use the statewide post to toughen laws for sex offenders.
In Montgomery, Leggett will replace longtime County Executive Douglas
M. Duncan (D), after defeating Republican Chuck Floyd and Independent
Robin Ficker. Leggett's election, along with Johnson's reelection in
Prince George's, means African Americans will run two of the state's
most populous counties.
In Anne Arundel, the longtime sheriff, George F. Johnson IV (D), was in
a tight race with maverick Republican Del. John R. Leopold. In Howard
County, council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) defeated council
Chairman Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) and independent
candidate C. Stephen Wallis in a contest for county executive that also
centered on growth.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company