Maryland Republicans will provide clues to how they plan to mend a divided and demoralized party when they meet Saturday to choose their leader for the next four years.
Whoever is elected to chair the state party can look forward to a season of change: Gov. Martin O'Malley and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will be redrawing legislative and congressional districts, term limits mean the next gubernatorial race will be for an open seat and, for the first time since 1998, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is unlikely to be the party's nominee for governor.
"The party is on the brink of making a change of some sort," said Chris Cavey, a former chairman of the Baltimore County Republican Party. "It is at the crux of change. and [Saturday] is Day One."
Ehrlich's 14.5-percentage point loss to O'Malley last month in a year that was good for Republicans elsewhere has stirred debate within the Maryland GOP, with some saying the party should focus more on local elections than on the top of the ticket, while others want to aggressively recruit new members from Democratic strongholds such as Baltimore.
Five candidates have entered the race to lead the party, including state Sen. Alex Mooney, a conservative firebrand who lost his seat last month by 1,044 votes, and Mary Kane, Ehrlich's running mate.
Also in the mix is the founder of a tea party group, the 20-year-old chairman of the Maryland College Republicans and the party nominee this year for state comptroller.
Mooney and Kane both come with proven fundraising prowess: Mooney raised nearly $600,000 for his unsuccessful Senate campaign; Kane raised $117,000 as the nominee for lieutenant governor on top of funds she raised for Ehrlich. She was a member of Ehrlich's Cabinet and her husband, John Kane, ran the state party when Ehrlich was governor.
But Kane, 48, has been dogged by her comment to The Baltimore Sun on the day after the Ehrlich loss, when she said, "I don't know if we are going to see another [Republican governor of Maryland] in the next 40 years."
She said this week that she was being sarcastic during a moment of "heightened emotions."
"It was the day after the election," she said. "It wasn't funny, and it is not what I believe."
Mooney, 39, believes the party must embrace its conservative roots to win. "I would disagree with the statement that you have to moderate yourself to win elections."
The lesson from Ehrlich's loss, he says, is that the GOP candidate had raised taxes and fees, leaving him vulnerable to attack by O'Malley. Mooney, in contrast, has voted against such increases, and expressed pride in having stood up to what he called the "homosexual agenda" in Annapolis.
Sam Hale founded the Maryland Society of Patriots, a tea party group. He worked for conservative gubernatorial hopeful Brian Murphy.
Hale, 25, believes conservatives were "locked out" of the last election. In an open letter posted on his Facebook page "I Like Sam," he says that he'd put principle before party.
Bill Campbell, 63, the political newcomer who challenged Comptroller Peter Franchot, said that the different factions of the state's Republican Party are "not talking to each other."
Mike Estève, a junior at Loyola College, chairs the Maryland College Republicans. He believes the party can make inroads in Baltimore and Prince George's County, majority African-American areas that vote almost uniformly for Democrats.
The party, in his view, must act as a whistle-blower, drawing more attention to Democratic foibles.
"Wherever there is a scandal or possible corruption, we need to be talking to voters about it," he said.