Plotting a comeback in Md.

The future of the GOP

November 24, 2008|By Richard J. Cross III

In 2006, when the first GOP governor in four decades was defeated, it seemed Maryland Republicans' fortunes could not get any worse. Now, two years later, the party has achieved what Yogi Berra famously called "d?j? vu all over again."

In a humiliating setback, Republicans lost the 1st Congressional District seat they have held comfortably since 1990, reducing the GOP's presence in the state's congressional delegation to a single seat. As recently as 2002, half the state's House members were Republicans.

Additionally, GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain performed worse than President Bush did in 2004 in 14 of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions. Mr. McCain only narrowly carried Anne Arundel and Frederick counties - two reliably Republican areas in elections past.

Six years after capturing the governor's mansion, the Maryland Republican Party is in shambles. Not since 1974, when the Watergate tidal wave wiped out many GOP officeholders, have Democrats achieved such unchecked hegemony over the state's political landscape.

An unpopular president, two poorly run campaigns and a shaky economy contributed to the GOP's diminished fortunes. Still, it will never be easy to be a Republican running for office in Maryland. From time to time, circumstances will present opportunities. But Republicans will always be underdogs. All they can do is be poised to take advantage of opportunities when they arrive.

To that end, Republicans should devote all their resources and energies during the next two years to one overarching goal: rebuilding the party's ranks of junior officeholders.

Democrats in Maryland have historically done a better job recruiting and promoting talent. More often than not, an upwardly mobile Democrat will first run for the state legislature or a local office, acquiring valuable experience and name recognition along the way. Both U.S. senators and all of Maryland's elected statewide officeholders began their careers that way.

By contrast, when Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared his candidacy for governor in 2002, he was both the strongest GOP candidate and the only one with a realistic chance of winning. Serving eight years in the legislature and eight years in Congress were key factors in his success.

The best way for Maryland Republicans to move forward is to identify at least five opportunity legislative races in 2010, and then recruit quality candidates. All fundraising should be directed to that goal.

The goal here is not simply to win back a handful of seats, or to find people who will languish in the legislature. The objective should be to recruit outstanding candidates who can and want to climb higher.

These should be accomplished, passionate people who have careers outside of the political arena. They should be fiscal conservatives with strong crossover appeal. They should be new faces, not the usual suspects.

Based on recent voting history, potential opportunities include seats in Anne Arundel (District 30), Baltimore (Districts 8 and 42), Frederick (District 3A), Calvert (District 27B) and Cecil/Harford counties (District 34A).

State party Chairman Jim Pelura and his team should immediately impanel a committee of party veterans to identify opportunity races, recruit and interview candidates, and make recommendations. Veterans of past GOP campaigns could be brought in to counsel the candidates on communications, fundraising, grassroots organizing and other necessary skills.

This effort would represent a strong investment in the future of two-party competition in Maryland. Today's freshman legislators could be tomorrow's county executives or congressional candidates. And all voters will benefit by having real and better choices.

Being a Maryland Republican is like being a Chicago Cubs fan. After a loss, it becomes tempting to console yourself by saying, "Wait till next year."

State Republicans need leaders, not lemmings. Rather than saying, "Wait till next year," we must ask, "What can we do differently next time?"

Richard J. Cross III, a Baltimore resident, is a former press secretary and speechwriter to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. His e-mail is

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