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When elephants fight

ElectionsRepublican PartySteny HoyerBenjamin L. CardinTea Party Movement

The last thing you'd think Maryland's Republican party needs would be a nasty internecine fight, but that's what it got at its annual convention over the weekend. Rather than unity in the effort to overcome a massive voter registration disadvantage, chronic fundraising problems and a frequent lack of competitive candidates for state-wide offices, the party became focused on a divisive race for an obscure position: national committeewoman. In the end, Audrey Scott, a GOP stalwart who has held a variety of elected and appointed posts, including a stint as state Republican chairwoman, was defeated by a heretofore little known, 37-year-old Baltimore woman, Nicolee Ambrose. Surprisingly, though, this development may actually be a positive sign for those who dream that Maryland could have a viable two-party system.

We speak no ill of Ms. Scott, who has served her state and party well and honorably for decades. She was the mayor of Bowie, aPrince George's Countycouncilwoman and state planning secretary under former Gov.Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.Most recently, she took over as state GOP chairwoman when the party was broke and in turmoil, and she had great success in restoring stability. She was the kind of person who would ordinarily be a shoo-in for national committeewoman, a post that has traditionally gone to party elders more as recognition of their past service than in expectation of what they will do in the future.

Others in the party had a different idea, and they encouraged Ms. Ambrose, who has held a variety of party positions, including national Young Republicans chairwoman, to run. She crossed the state to meet with central committees and to attend Lincoln Day dinners and campaigned heavily on social media. Her pitch was that she intended to be more than the state's representative to the Republican National Committee and to use the post to help with fundraising, grassroots organizing and communications. In particular, her backers say her extensive connections in Washington could help bring party resources into a state that is not generally seen as a high priority for the GOP.

The contest that played out at the party convention was not particularly ideological, though Ms. Ambrose did pick up some support from tea party enthusiasts who were upset about some of Ms. Scott's decisions while party chairwoman. Nor was it particularly a repudiation of Mr. Ehrlich and those who served in his administration; a significant part of Ehrlich world supported Ms. Ambrose. If anything turned the tide, it was probably Ms. Scott's involvement in the campaign of one of Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's primary challengers, which likely cost her support from Western Maryland.

This election was, at heart, a generational one, and a case of an insurgent against the establishment. The Republican Party in Maryland and elsewhere has traditionally been a wait-your-turn, hierarchical affair, and Ms. Ambrose's candidacy upset that. Given the state of the Maryland GOP, that may not be such a bad thing.

Although the election wasn't entirely about a desire to pursue a future that doesn't revolve around Mr. Ehrlich, it's clear that the state GOP, to some extent, has done just that. Mr. Ehrlich has moved on to a variety of other activities — including writing a column for this newspaper — and will not be the party's standard bearer in future elections. Meanwhile, there has been a significant turnover in central committee posts around the state, and the party has seen a number of outsider candidacies for major offices from the likes of Daniel Bongino (now running for U.S. Senate against Ben Cardin), Charles Lollar (who ran againstRep. Steny Hoyer in 2010) and Brian Murphy (who challenged Mr. Ehrlich in the 2010 primary). They and others like them have brought significant energy but have not always paired it with sufficient knowledge of the nuts and bolts of putting together a successful campaign.

Ms. Ambrose has the potential to pair the enthusiasm these and other fresh faces have brought to the state GOP with her experience of what it takes to get things done on the campaign trail and her contacts in the national party. It may take some time to ease the bruised feelings from her race against Ms. Scott, and in any case, the path to success won't be easy for Maryland Republicans. But her win provides some hope that the generational shift now underway in the state GOP could help make the party more viable and provide voters with more and better choices in the years ahead.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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