Ehrlich may decide soon on governor race

He plans to meet Friday with his top financial backers

September 08, 2001|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has scheduled a meeting with his top financial backers for Friday, and a decision could come as soon as that day about whether he will enter the race for governor next year.

Ehrlich and his chief political adviser, Paul Schurick, said last night that no final decision had been reached, but speculation is growing in some circles that the four-term Republican from Timonium will give up his congressional seat and run for the State House.

"It's my belief he's going to run. I've heard it from friends of his, I've heard it from his close supporters, and I've heard it from him," said Richard P. Taylor, a national GOP committee member from Maryland.

"All indications are it's a go next week," said another source close to the state Republican Party leadership.

Ehrlich confirmed last night that the Friday meeting is "important," but he denied that his mind was made up. He said he is weighing "the toughest decision of my life."

"There is a major meeting of my finance committee on Friday," Ehrlich said. "I would not characterize that as a deadline. But it's an important meeting."

Ehrlich, 43, has been pondering a gubernatorial run for months and had said he would make up his mind by the end of the summer.

The race would be an uphill fight. Maryland has not elected a Republican governor since 1966, and Democrats outnumber Republicans on voter rolls by nearly 2-to-1. Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a Democrat, has a significant lead over Ehrlich and other challengers in early polls.

A Sun poll conducted at the beginning of the year found Townsend leading Ehrlich 57 percent to 30 percent in a theoretical match-up in the November 2002 election. A more recent Mason-Dixon poll showed Ehrlich within 14 points, however, and the former Princeton football captain is regarded as a formidable campaigner who would be likely to close that gap.

But Townsend's strength among blacks and other core Democratic groups could pose an insurmountable barrier.

Ehrlich has been encouraged by focus groups of female voters in Montgomery County that indicate Townsend's support might be weak.

"I can tell you that he has not made a decision," Schurick said. "There is nothing more to tell. He is agonizing over this. It is an incredibly difficult and complex decision, and it hasn't been made."

If Ehrlich decides not to run, the Republicans probably will have to put a second-tier candidate at the top of their ticket, as they did in 1990 with William S. Shepard in the race against Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

GOP nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey lost to Parris N. Glendening by a razor-thin margin in 1994 but fell to 46 percent of the vote in their 1998 rematch.

Last night, Ehrlich said he has heard that John Kane, a Montgomery County trucking executive, might not run for governor even if Ehrlich doesn't. Kane had previously said he would run in that case. Ehrlich said a pending Kane announcement could be fueling speculation that the congressman had reached a decision.

Another Republican, Prince George's County Councilwoman Audrey Scott, has said she will run for governor if Ehrlich does not.

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