Md. GOP revels in Bush's first days

State Republicans set sights on comeback during 2002 elections

April 30, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Resisting the lure of a near-perfect day outdoors, about 200 Maryland Republicans gathered at a Timonium hotel yesterday to celebrate 100 days of having George W. Bush in the White House.

The mood was unfailingly upbeat as the GOP faithful reveled in the Republican restoration and vowed to make a comeback from the state party's less-than-stellar performances in the 1998 and 2000 elections. Republicans get few opportunities to whoop it up in Democratic-dominated Maryland, and they were clearly making the most of the occasion.

"They say we never have fun. We do have fun, us Republicans," Del. Martha S. Klima said as country music blared in the background.

Like other partygoers, the Baltimore County lawmaker gave Bush's early performance a rave review.

"He's really pulled it together, and I'm pleased he's restored dignity to the White House," she said.

Rank-and-file Republicans were no less enthusiastic as they rallied under an oversized Texas flag and spooned down mouthfuls of what was described as Bush's favorite chili recipe (lots of beef, not much spice). GOP activists paid $25 a ticket for yesterday's event, which was billed as a celebration for Bush campaign workers rather than a fund-raiser.

Monica Warns of Reisterstown, decked out in cowboy hat and Western-style outfit, said she has been "very impressed" by the new chief executive and his efforts to push through a $1.6 trillion tax cut.

"I don't think you could have ever asked for more," the former Bush campaign volunteer said. "As soon as the tax package gets through, I'll be a very happy person."

The event drew many of the biggest names in Maryland GOP politics, including 1998 gubernatorial running mates Ellen R. Sauerbrey and Richard D. Bennett, but there was little doubt the star of the show was Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - the man many Republicans want at the top of their ticket next year.

Party chairman Michael Steele gave Ehrlich a gentle nudge as he talked about the need to field a strong statewide ticket next year, when the State House will be up for grabs.

"I see a very good prospect in the back of the room," Steele said with a nod toward the congressman.

Ehrlich continued to signal yesterday that he would relish the opportunity to take on the Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Though Townsend leads all prospective challengers in early public opinion polls, Ehrlich insisted she is far from having the race locked up.

"There's not a comfort level with the idea that Kathleen Townsend is going to be governor of Maryland," Ehrlich said. He said he would decide whether to leave Congress and run for governor this summer, not waiting to see what his district looks like when Gov. Parris N. Glendening proposes a redistricting plan in the winter.

Republican fund-raiser Richard Hug gave a mixed appraisal of the party's prospects next year. He predicted significant gains in the General Assembly, where two-thirds of the seats are held by Democrats, but was cautious about its prospects for higher offices.

"Statewide, it's going to be tough but not impossible," Hug said. "A candidate has not emerged as far as the party's concerned."

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