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Why would any sane Republican run for governor in a state where the GOP is a lost ball in tall grass?

True, Republicans have great success in rural and less urban jurisdictions, like Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties, and in communities like Reisterstown and Glyndon.

But when it comes to statewide races, heavy Democratic margins in the most populous subdivisions make it difficult to imagine a Republican winning except by a fluke.

Still, there's a rush among Republicans to take on Maryland's dominant party.

The most prominent GOP candidate is Harford County Executive David Craig, a tested leader on the town, county and state levels.

Craig's problem is that he is a moderate conservative.

Party hardliners may find it difficult to vote for Craig. Most tea party Republicans want a flame-thrower.

They could have a number of candidates.

Larry Hogan Jr., an Annapolis land broker and son of a former GOP congressman, is promoting a dramatic conservative overhaul of government.

Hogan served in the Ehrlich administration and views himself as Bob Ehrlich's heir. But is his message much different from the others?

For instance, Blaine Young, the tough-talking president of the Frederick County Commissioners, echoes many of the same anti-government, anti-spending sentiments.

Young has a reputation for extreme statements, particularly on illegal immigrants.

As governor, he promises never to raises taxes or fees and to veto legislative attempts to do so.

That may enthrall listeners of his Frederick radio show but will it prove popular before a larger audience?

Another potential candidate is Smith Island cake entrepreneur Brian Murphy, who got pummeled when he ran against Ehrlich in the 2010 GOP primary.

Then there's Marty Madden, the former state senator from Howard County who later chaired the state's Critical Areas Commission.

He formed a campaign committee and is looking at following Ellen Sauerbrey's route by accepting public financing if he runs for governor.

Madden was Senate GOP leader but he seems out of step with the party's tea party types. He's a strong environmentalist, a conciliator and a fiscal conservative.

He's also an innovative thinker. "Marylanders would respond very favorably to an independent, reform-minded candidate who forgoes the traditional big money that larger contributors, PACs and unlimited LLCs give in the hopes of gaining influence and access," he says.

If Madden runs, he'll declare next March when he can start raising 1,000 individual donations of $250 to qualify for matching funds. He's also committed to one-term-and-out, a novel theme voters might appreciate.

Madden is the only candidate from the populous center of Maryland, where over half of state Republicans live (the largest number reside right here in Baltimore County).

Yet winning the GOP primary is one thing. Winning the general election is something else. That will take a candidate with statewide appeal - and a good deal of luck.

Barry Rascovar, of Reisterstown, is a political columnist and communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@hot mail.com.

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