Former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich http://www.bobehrlich.com said Tuesday he will challenge Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley http://www.martinomalley.com in November's election, setting up a rematch between Maryland's two biggest political foes.
"Within the last two months, I arrived at this decision after an awful lot of thought," Ehrlich said.
The former governor said that for a long time after losing his 2006 re-election bid to O'Malley, he believed the state had shifted to the far left. He said he often expressed doubts he would run in 2010. Maryland is a tough state for the GOP in statewide races because Democrats outnumber Republicans in voter registration by a 2-1 margin.
But Ehrlich noted that he sensed a change last year, and he mentioned Maryland's economic struggles as key reasons why he wants to run because "there is a real sense of concern about the direction our state is taking."
"Clearly, the environment did change in 2009, and I first became aware of that through independent poll results that were given to me," the former governor said.
Ehrlich, 52, declined to comment in detail about polling results or fundraising, but he said the poll numbers "were good enough that we're having this discussion here today."
For now, Ehrlich is significantly behind in fundraising. The campaign for O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown reported having about $5.7 million on hand in January. Ehrlich reported a cash balance of $141,778 in January, but aides have pointed out Ehrlich waited until March 2002 to announce his plans to run in that year's race, and that didn't harm fundraising efforts then.
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The state's economic condition will be a key issue. Ehrlich cited a doubling of unemployment over the past four years, $1.4 billion in tax increases approved in 2007 at the urging of O'Malley, and the state's budget deficit, which Ehrlich said "has reached very dangerous levels."
Ehrlich, who became Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation in 2002 when he defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has been testing the waters for months by traveling around the state to meet with voters.
In Maryland's 2006 governor's race, Ehrlich lost his re-election bid with 46 percent of the vote to 53 percent for then-Baltimore Mayor O'Malley.
O'Malley, for his part, has avoided talking about a rematch, saying he's focusing on the legislative session that runs through April 12.
"We've been focused on the session and making the tough, fiscally responsible choices necessary to protect the priorities of the people of Maryland," O'Malley said last week when asked about a potential Ehrlich run.
O'Malley has made job creation the core of his legislative agenda. Last week, he signed emergency legislation creating a $5,000 tax credit for Maryland employers who hire an unemployed resident. The governor included $20 million in the budget for the initiative.
Ehrlich said he will formally announce his candidacy April 7 in Montgomery County, the state's largest jurisdiction and O'Malley's boyhood home. Ehrlich also will appear that night in his hometown of Arbutus, a Baltimore suburb.
Ehrlich said he has not decided on a running mate.