Mayor Martin O'Malley and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin claimed victory late last night in their highly charged races for governor and a seat in the U.S. Senate. Their leads appear to be substantial, and it would take a truly lopsided (and statistically unlikely) result in the record number of absentee votes to change that outcome. But every vote deserves to be tallied, and it's perhaps inevitable that neither Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. nor Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele was willing to concede.
But we trust that in the days ahead, the candidates will not engage in an ugly and ultimately futile (although potentially quite damaging) fight to undermine or obscure the final tally. Count the votes but don't allow lawyers to warp the process beyond recognition. We don't want a repeat of Florida in 2000. Nor do we need a replay of 1994, when a 6,000-vote margin in Maryland's gubernatorial race led to a lengthy but fruitless court battle.
Mr. Cardin's lead over Mr. Steele looks particularly insurmountable. The victory keeps the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in the Democratic column and represents not only a personal triumph for Mr. Cardin but also the political maturity of Maryland voters. Last night, Mr. Steele seemed intent on drawing out the agony; he would be doing himself and the state a favor if he accepted the reality of his situation.
Mr. O'Malley's apparent victory may also soften the city's loss of clout elsewhere in state government. The departure of two noted Baltimoreans, Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., to two Montgomery County residents, veteran Del. Peter Franchot and State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, represents a major shift in the state's political landscape.
Absentee ballots could still play a role in close races, of course. As of yesterday, more than 130,000 had been returned to local election boards, about two-thirds of the record 193,160 requested by voters. Some jurisdictions were slow to mail out absentee ballots, and Mr. Ehrlich's post-primary call for supporters to vote absentee instead of by electronic voting machine may have worked against him.
In any case, a picture is emerging of solid victory for Mr. Cardin and Mr. O'Malley - and Maryland will be the better for it.