Ehrlich adds Steele

July 02, 2002

GUBERNATORIAL candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. chose a running mate yesterday whose life story illustrates his campaign themes: education, inclusiveness and hard work.

Corporate lawyer Michael S. Steele also brings important political support. He's an African-American who comes to the GOP team from Prince George's County, a critical battleground in gubernatorial campaigns. Prince George's is 75 percent black.

Mr. Ehrlich downplayed it yesterday, but Mr. Steele also lends credence to a critical element of the Republican's appeal for black support: Mr. Ehrlich has been urging black voters to believe a Republican would serve them at least as well as Democrats who, he has said, take their votes for granted.

Yesterday he continued that appeal by putting an African-American on his ticket. By most calculations, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend chose retired Adm. Charles R. Larson to broaden her appeal especially among white male suburban voters. She was under less pressure to choose a black running mate, according to these same calculations, because as a Kennedy her popularity among black voters is already high.

Mr. Ehrlich, 44, said he and Mr. Steele, 43, will present themselves as the future of leadership in Maryland. They hope to project an image of vigorous new talent in contrast to the Democrats, who they say have grown stale and ethically careless over 40 years in control of the State House.

Both men enjoy the parry and thrust of politics, suggesting a summer and fall of rhetorical fireworks. Mr. Steele has been serving already as point man for a party trying to convince Marylanders that change is overdue.

During the introduction of his running mate yesterday in Annapolis, the Republican sought to blur lines of social and political demarcation: "Republican, Democrat, independent, blacks, whites - the old lines are gone," he said. In liberal Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, crossover appeal is critical to a moderate-to-conservative Republican.

With no serious primary race expected in either party, the two sides now begin what amounts to an extended general election campaign, one that may bring stars of politics and show business on behalf of both parties.

As always in campaigns for governor, much is at stake. Maryland must have the best possible leadership. Democrats hope to show voters that they have been progressive and responsible stewards of the public trust. Republicans say change is healthy, necessary and vital.

So, the two teams are in place. Let the race begin.

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