Ehrlich declares himself, first lady out of Senate race
By Andrew A. Green
Sun Staff

March 17, 2005

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that neither he nor first lady Kendel S. Ehrlich intends to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, but he held out the possibility that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele could become the GOP's most competitive U.S. Senate candidate in decades.

Ehrlich said he has spoken with party leaders in Washington - he wouldn't say whom - about the strongest Republican candidate for the seat. He said now would be the wrong time for him to run.

"I have gone around the state talking about commitments ... about change, about moving the ball forward," he said. "That job is not done. I believe, in fact I know, that I would be abandoning my commitment to the people of Maryland if I left my job early."

Ehrlich said that his wife is flattered that her name has been mentioned as a possible candidate but that she is busy with their two young sons.

As for a Steele candidacy, Ehrlich said he would regret losing a true friend and partner as his lieutenant governor, and would consider the best interests of the state and the party in advising Steele over the next few months on whether to run.

But the governor said the fact that people are interested in whom the Republicans will nominate is proof that the party is more relevant than it has been in years.

"This is a seat I believe can be won by the right candidate," Ehrlich said of his party's chances. "Michael Steele would be a wonderful candidate."

A spokeswoman for Steele did not return phone messages yesterday.

State Sen. E.J. Pipkin, the party's most recent candidate for U.S. Senate, said he will consider whether to run after the legislative session.

The Democratic field is thick with potential candidates.

Former congressman and NAACP chairman Kweisi Mfume declared Monday that he is running. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced an exploratory committee Tuesday. Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore and Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County have said they are seriously considering bids.

Richard Vatz, professor of political rhetoric at Towson University, said it's good for Steele's career to have his name mentioned for higher office. He said it pains him as a conservative to say it, but Steele would be a long shot.

"If I were he, I wouldn't announce I wasn't going to run, but I wouldn't run," he said. "It's not impossible, but I'd hate to put my job on the line for that."

Copyright © 2005, The Baltimore Sun