Ehrlich set to launch new campaign for governor

Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is set to launch his bid to reclaim the post of Maryland's governor at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Rockville, seeking the job that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley took from him after one term in 2006.

Ehrlich confirmed last week that he was planning to run for governor, hoping to capitalize on national anti-incumbent sentiment that has emerged since the last presidential election and has deepened during the health care reform debate.

Despite national trends, the former four-term congressman and his aides have acknowledged that they have to make greater inroads in Democratic Montgomery County, which has the greatest number of registered independents and, in 2006, turned out the most voters in the state. Ehrlich lost there by almost 79,000 votes.

"It's very important. It's self-evident. It'll be a major focus of our campaign," Ehrlich said in an interview last week.

Though he topped O'Malley in 18 of the state's 23 counties, overall, Ehrlich lost the 2006 election by almost 117,000 votes, or 6.5 percentage points. O'Malley handily won Baltimore, a heavily Democratic city where he served as mayor. Ehrlich barely won his home of Baltimore County, where another campaign event is planned for later Wednesday, at 6 p.m. at the American Legion in Halethorpe.

A recent Rasmussen poll recorded a 6 percentage point lead for O'Malley over Ehrlich, prompting analyst Stuart Rothenberg to reclassify the race from "safe" to "narrow advantage" for O'Malley.

After his defeat in 2006, Ehrlich opened the Baltimore branch of a North Carolina law firm and launched a Saturday radio talk show with his wife on WBAL. He told listeners of his radio show Saturday that he will stay behind the microphone until July, when he officially files his candidacy with the state elections board. He has also said that he will not announce a running mate for some time.

O'Malley, who is expected to campaign again with Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, also has not filed. State law prohibits O'Malley from raising money for his re-election effort until the legislative session ends Monday.

An ousted Maryland governor has never reclaimed his seat since at least the 1860s. The only remotely similar popular election, according to Edward C. Papenfuse Jr., Maryland state archivist, occurred in 1934, when Republican Harry Nice defeated Democratic Gov. Albert Ritchie — a man he'd lost to by about 100 votes in 1919.

While Republicans in recent months have captured the governors' offices held by Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia and a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, it remains unclear whether the party can be similarly successful in Maryland -- where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin and polls show the incumbent to be fairly popular. The Republican National Committee, headed by former Ehrlich Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, did not include Maryland on a list of top 16 gubernatorial targets recently shared with donors.

On Monday, Andy Barth, a Baltimore area television reporter for more than 30 years who unsuccessfully ran for Congress, signed on to be Ehrlich's press secretary. Ehrlich will continue his campaign announcement week with stops Thursday in Western Maryland and Friday on the Eastern Shore, his campaign spokesman said.

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