Ehrlich reportedly taps GOP chair Steele

Governor hopeful to name running mate today

Election 2002

July 01, 2002|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to name state Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele as his running mate in the race for governor today, according to a source familiar with the selection process.

Selection of the corporate lawyer and Prince George's County resident underscores Ehrlich's effort to win black votes in the election.

Ehrlich, the likely GOP nominee, has campaigned frequently in Baltimore and has been a regular guest on urban radio stations. The addition to his ticket of Steele, the second African-American to head the state Republican Party, would assist that effort.

Steele, 43, could not be reached for comment last night, and Ehrlich, in an interview, would not confirm the choice. A news conference to announce the selection is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Annapolis.

FOR THE RECORD - A front-page article yesterday incorrectly stated the political experience of Maryland Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele. He was defeated in the Republican primary for comptroller in 1998, not in the general election. The Sun regrets the error.

Paul Schurick, an Ehrlich campaign aide, also declined to confirm Steele's candidacy, calling it "pure speculation."

In his two years as head of the state party, Steele has developed a reputation as a freewheeling, hard-hitting partisan willing to attack Democrats who he says have grown arrogant and complacent in their decades of dominating Maryland politics.

In recent weeks, his stock has risen as he took on one of the state's most powerful politicians. Steele has filed ethics complaints against Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller after the senator contacted two state Court of Appeals judges and berated them for an interim decision they made in legislative redistricting lawsuits.

Steele is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and Georgetown University Law Center. His quick mind and ready wit have also received a national audience; he has been a guest on Politically Incorrect, the late-night ABC show that featured Bill Maher as host.

A Roman Catholic with anti-abortion views, Steele once studied for the priesthood. He is married and has two children.

He is the founder of The Steele Group, a business and legal consulting firm, according to a Republican Party biographical summary. In 1998, he ran for state comptroller, losing to William Donald Schaefer.

Ehrlich was pushed toward a dramatic announcement last week when his likely opponent, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, surprised the state's political establishment by selecting a former Naval Academy superintendent, retired Adm. Charles R. Larson, as her running mate.

Larson, vice chairman of the state university system Board of Regents, had changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat less than three weeks earlier.

Likewise, Ehrlich flirted with the idea of rounding his ticket with a party-switcher. Last month, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick expressed interest in changing parties to join Ehrlich in a run for governor, but changed her mind after meeting with Townsend and others.

Without credible primary opposition, both Ehrlich and Townsend have been free to seek running mates who might attract voters beyond their party's core.

By selecting a four-star admiral, Townsend, observers say, is trying to temper her liberal image and woo independent- and conservative-leaning voters.

And now Ehrlich is trying to reach beyond his party's regular voters - a necessary step in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 2-to-1, and where African-Americans make up 29 percent of the population.

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