Welcome to the race

Our view: Former Governor Ehrlich's decision to challenge Governor O'Malley will be good for Maryland — if it means a real debate about the direction of the state

March 31, 2010

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has made official what seemed inevitable: He will seek a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley in November. It's a good thing he's finally made a decision in the matter because during the months he's been testing the waters, it's become clear that no other Republican had the inherent stature to mount a credible challenge to Governor O'Malley, and the longer he waited, the less chance that anyone could develop it. If this election was going to be anything more than a pro forma re-election for the Democratic incumbent, Mr. Ehrlich had to get in.

And Maryland voters deserve a real race, a real conversation about the state's direction and future. In a conference call with reporters announcing his plans, Mr. Ehrlich promised a campaign about "new ideas." Let's hope so. Seven months of reliving the supposed glory days of Mr. Ehrlich's first term and rehashing the talking points of the 2006 campaign, we could do without.

That race, for all its Clash of the Titans hype, never amounted to much. Mr. Ehrlich relied on a Rose Garden strategy, confident that voters would have appreciated what he had done for the previous four years, would blame the Democratic legislature for any missed opportunities, and would vote to re-elect him. He eschewed the notion of laying out a vision for the previous four years, saying he didn't want to come off as a politician making promises, and he spent much of his energy denigrating the real, if incomplete, progress Baltimore had made.

Mr. O'Malley, on the other hand, spent much of the time blasting Mr. Ehrlich for a BGE rate increase to which he could have responded more aggressively but which he didn't cause and seeking at every occasion to place the words "Bob Ehrlich" and "George Bush" in as close proximity as possible. But Mr. O'Malley did take seriously the idea that he should say what his government would do during the next four years - in fact, the major theme of his campaign was the notion that Annapolis could and should do anything at all - and voters preferred a vision for moving the state forward over the memory of four years of gridlock. Both candidates should remember that lesson rather than succumb to the temptation to refight old battles.

The challenges we face now are of an entirely different magnitude than those Mr. Ehrlich grappled during his term or those we could have predicted four years ago. We need to hear plans not only for overcoming Maryland's chronic short-term budget problems but also for handling our long-term liabilities for health care and employee pensions. We need to hear how we are going to make our work force competitive on a global scale, how we are going to rejuvenate our crumbling infrastructure and how we are going to spread opportunity throughout the state.

This election needs to be about which candidate provides the most compelling vision of Maryland's future - and voters' judgment, based on watching both men govern for four years, of which is best able to execute it. Let's hope these two candidates can get past their well publicized personal animus and give the voters the contest of ideas they deserve.

Readers respond
Just a return of the same old stale ideas, from yet another stale career politician. There goes a chance for a decent candidate.

Jcube1027

Another vote against O'Malley, but not for Ehrlich. It is sad that this is all Maryland Republicans can offer.

Blackwing4

I'm a Democrat and am overjoyed at Ehrlich's announcement. Now the Dems stop taking our votes for granted. EARN IT!

Bluhen

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