Ehrlich's candidacy now official
Congressman's bid for governorship invigorates GOP
By David Nitkin
March 26, 2002
Republican Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced yesterday that he is
running for governor, pledging to restore fiscal responsibility in a state
where he said one-party domination by
Democrats has swelled the size of government and eroded accountability.
"We're mortgaging our future, and we know it," said Ehrlich, speaking
from the walkway of his parents' brick rowhouse in Arbutus, where inside
he once debated politics at the dinner
table and proposed to his wife.
"We promise you real debates around the state on real issues, because the people deserve it," Ehrlich said. "A chief executive needs to think and articulate where the state needs to go."
In launching a gubernatorial campaign in a state where Democrats outnumber
Republicans nearly 2 to 1, the four-term congressman ended more than a
year of speculation and
invigorated a state party that many believe has been teetering on the brink of irrelevancy.
"In energizes us at our roots," said Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele. "It excites the base of the party."
Ehrlich, 44, hopes to capitalize on the post-Sept. 11 popularity of
President Bush. He is boosted by recent polls - including a January survey
for The Sun - showing Maryland voters
believe Republicans are as likely as Democrats to handle state government competently.
He said Marylanders deserve vigorous discourse on education, transportation
and substance abuse. And in a veiled swipe at Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy
Townsend, the Democrat who
is considered her party's front-runner but is the subject of whispered criticism about her abilities and style, Ehrlich said he would make leadership a central theme.
"You can't touch it. You can't feel it. But you know it when you see it," he said. "At this time, in this state, we need new leadership."
The former Gilman School and Princeton University football standout said he was undaunted by Townsend's fund-raising edge and name recognition.
"I'm all about competition," he said. "We've been the underdogs before."
After addressing a crowd of 200 that included his former baby sitter
and the man who gave him his first job prepping new trucks for delivery,
Ehrlich whisked his fledgling campaign to
Montgomery County, whose 465,000 registered voters will play a decisive role in the November vote.
Speaking at a Chevy Chase fire station, he pledged support for job growth
and new technology, and said he would push to build the Intercounty Connector,
a contentious highway
project that has been debated for four decades.
Earlier in the day, during her own Montgomery tour, Townsend announced
that she, too, wants to build the road - signaling not only her first major
break with Gov. Parris N. Glendening,
but the importance of gridlock-suffering Washington-area voters in this year's election.
Ehrlich seeks to become Maryland's first Republican governor since 1966,
when Spiro T. Agnew won. Maryland's electorate is considered one of the
nation's most liberal, and while
Ehrlich hopes to portray himself as a moderate, his voting record came under scrutiny less than three hours after his announcement.
About 20 protesters gathered outside the fire station, chanting slogans
and distributing fliers pointing out that the National Rifle Association
has given him an "A" rating and that he
voted to repeal a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons.
"We think that people should know where he really stands," said Ginni Wolf, of Marylanders against Handgun Abuse.
Inside the station, Nancy C. Lineman, executive director of the state
affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League,
said Ehrlich "should not be characterized
as a pro-choice candidate."
"If you're a white woman of means, maybe you can get an abortion" under
policies Ehrlich supports, she said. "But if you are poor and rely on government
for your health care, you are
fresh out of luck."
Ehrlich said his opponents came from "fringe groups."
"You can't please all the folks all the time," he said. "I've voted 25,000 times. [Townsend] has voted not one time, anywhere, any place. This will be a race about contrast and issues."
Yesterday's events demonstrated that Ehrlich will campaign both as an
insider who knows the workings of Annapolis and an outsider not tainted
by decades of one-party rule and a
decreasingly popular Glendening-Townsend administration.
A former state delegate, Ehrlich said he has forged bipartisan relations
in Annapolis. "I think he does have crossover appeal," said former Del.
Kenneth H. Masters, a Baltimore County
Democrat who served with Ehrlich on the House Judiciary Committee. "He worked well with everybody. If he can effectively get his message out, it will resonate."
Rep. Constance A. Morella, the Montgomery County Republican who joined
Ehrlich at the fire station, said her colleague is not part of "the culture
of corruption" in Annapolis. "He
seeks the governorship based on his record of achievement, not entitlement," Morella said.
Republicans have coveted an Ehrlich-Morella ticket, saying the combination
would offer the best chance of beating Townsend, or Baltimore Mayor Martin
O'Malley if he decides to run.
But Morella said yesterday that she has no interest in being lieutenant governor. Ehrlich would not say when he intends to announce a running mate or who he is considering.
Kendel Ehrlich, the congressman's wife, said her husband came under
intense pressure from national Republicans to run for Congress again. But
she said she supports his decision to
"He has a clear vision of how to win. I don't want him to be 10 years down the road and say this was his chance and he missed it."
Ehrlich said he would reach out to black and minority voters, who traditionally
vote Democratic and whom polls show strongly support Townsend. He tried
to pre-empt negative
campaign attacks that he said will portray him as insensitive to racial issues, a charge that undercut Ellen R. Sauerbrey when she ran in 1998.
"You pay for real debate. Not 30-second sound bites. Not 30-second attacks," he told the crowd in Chevy Chase. "We're challenging you to take the race-baiters down."
Ehrlich ended his day with a fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, where aides said a crowd of 650 contributed $750,000, pushing his state account above the $2 million mark.
Townsend, however, has raised more than $6 million and had $3 million available to spend as of last November.
The congressman was greeted by banner-waving throngs of supporters,
including college Republicans from the University of Maryland, Baltimore
County and Johns Hopkins
Ehrlich campaign finance aides promise that the candidate will have
enough money for a competitive race, which they believe means raising $8
million to help pay for television
advertising in the Washington suburbs, where he is not well known.
Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun