"People see me in the 7-Eleven, they see me in the Giant buying a box of cereal. They'd see me going into a dry cleaners. It engenders a lot of conversation because everybody comes up to you to get your opinion."
The attention is flattering, but the message is unmistakable: Members of Congress are on call.
Said one of his colleagues: "Anywhere I go, I get casework. I get casework on the Eastern Shore. I get casework in Florida."
Both men get considerable press attention, a further diversion from the job itself.
And, for different reasons, both men have had to meet constant mands from the press. Mr. Mfume was a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, a role that helped transform him into one of Congress' most recognizable spokesmen for African-American issues.
Mr. Ehrlich's prominence arises from his membership in the GOP Class of 1994.
"I get called for cable shows like America's Talking all the time. I'm on other members' TV shows; talk radio every day; the weekly newspaper columns; pieces for The Sun; radio shows. It's amazing."
For whoever wins the 7th District seat, of course, the clamor of press may be muted. One of the contenders, State Sen. Delores G. Kelley, may have had it about right when she said her task will be staying afloat "in a sea of Republicans."
Mr. Mfume might say "in a sea of complexity." He says his first days in the House were filled with study.
"I had to immerse myself to understand the institutional history, particularly in banking, to understand the language, to understand the players and the positions of those inside and outside government. That takes time." Then and now.
At a recent forum, Ms. Kelley and other contestants offered views of how they would represent their districts.
State Del. Elijah E. Cummings, speaker pro tem of the Maryland House of Delegates and a four-term legislator from West Baltimore, had it about right when he said: "People only want to touch their congressman."
Where does that leave the Rev. Frank M. Reid III, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, who would try to fit the duties of a congressman around the duties of a pastor with as many as 10,000 congregants?
Mr. Mfume said his day usually begins with a staff briefing at 9 a.m. The day's first vote comes along soon after. The vote may come while Mr. Mfume is in committee, in a briefing or having a conversation, but when it comes Mr. Mfume must stop and rush to the House floor. Sometimes it happens while Mr. Mfume is serving as a tour guide.
"Because we're so close to the home district, you meet with groups of school kids two or three times a week and with groups of seniors once a week. If it's not freezing you talk to them on the Capitol steps. If it is, you get them seated in the gallery and then you run down to vote."
In between, he works to understand the bills.
"There's a tremendous amount of reading to do. If you don't do it you don't know what you're talking about and you look like a fool. You can't respond to the press adequately or to your critics or your colleagues."
And to stay in touch.
"You're returning calls all day long to a lot of people who, whether they are lobbyists representing labor or the environment or consumer groups, want to let you know their take on an issue. All the while, the bells ring, signaling another vote."
Mr. Mfume is moving on for the moment to another challenge to be filled, no doubt, with its own distractions. Mr. Ehrlich wonders about his own longevity. He pledged to stay no longer than 12 years.
"I think about that question every day," he said. "It's a tremendous honor to be here. You go places and people really want to hear what you have to say. You come to work and you see the Capitol Dome. That part of the job is wonderful and humbling.
"By the same token, there are more important things in this life. fTC family and my marriage are first. You have to keep everything in perspective."
Said Mr. Mfume: "You have to eagerly want this position and love people, genuinely like the process and believe in government -- its ability to make a difference."
If past is prologue, the new 7th District representative will find keeping that faith more and more challenging.
C. Fraser Smith is a reporter for The Sun.