Ehrlich, 52, won 75 percent of the party’s vote, to 25 percent for rival Brian Murphy, with 76 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press said early today. Ehrlich was governor from 2003 to 2007, when he was the first Republican to head the state since 1969. Murphy, 33, was backed by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
The vote sets up a rematch of Maryland’s 2006 election, when former Baltimore mayor O’Malley defeated Ehrlich as Democrats secured a majority of governorships for the first time since 1994. Voter surveys show they are poised for a close race.
With 37 gubernatorial elections in November, Republicans are looking to states including Maryland to reverse the Democrats’ majority, a move that would give them greater power during the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts.
Ehrlich, who is also a former state legislator and U.S. Representative, withstood Murphy’s attempts to mobilize conservative Republicans against him. Murphy criticized the former governor for increasing government spending.
That attack may boost Ehrlich in November by painting him as a moderate Republican, said Adam Hoffman, a professor of political science at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by more than 2-to-1.
“In some ways, the primary helps Ehrlich in the general election,” Hoffman said before yesterday’s vote.
While in office, Ehrlich fought legislation to raise the minimum wage and require large businesses to pay for employee health insurance. During his primary campaign, he said he would work to foster growth by lowering taxes that he said discourage entrepreneurs from starting new companies and creating jobs.