Ehrlich's 1st TV ad to begin today

GOP candidate targets voters in Montgomery

Election 2002

August 29, 2002|By Sarah Koenig and Tim Craig | Sarah Koenig and Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Residents of the Washington suburbs will wake up this morning to Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s first television ad, which portrays him as "a different kind of Republican" even Democrats could love.

Almost immediately, the 30-second spot allies Ehrlich with Rep. Constance A. Morella, a fellow Republican whose liberal voting record on some issues, polls show, has endeared her to a majority of the Montgomery County Democrats she represents.

"A working class kid - earned scholarships to high school and Princeton University," a voiceover tells the viewer. "In Congress, he joined Connie Morella protecting a woman's right to choose. The Washington Post calls Ehrlich `moderate' and `well liked by many Democrats.'"

Montgomery County is hugely important to Ehrlich and Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as they campaign to become Maryland's next governor. A sixth of the people who voted in the 1998 gubernatorial election live there, and the county is home to more independent voters than anywhere else in the state.

While Townsend enjoys broad support there, many voters in Montgomery know little about Ehrlich. The ad, he hopes, will help change that.

"Our name recognition in the Baltimore market is extremely high," said Paul E. Schurick, a campaign spokesman. "Our name recognition in the Washington market needs to improve."

In addition, Ehrlich expects Townsend's next television advertisement - she ran one statewide in July - will include an unflattering portrait of his record.

"We anticipate their negative campaign will begin very soon, and feel it's important to introduce Bob and his message of change and opportunity before it starts," Schurick said.

The ad clearly responds to the lessons learned from Ellen R. Sauerbrey's 1994 and 1998 gubernatorial campaigns. Then, Democratic voters in the Washington suburbs shied away from her strong partisan language and anti-abortion position. Morella did not embrace Sauerbrey's candidacy.

This time, Ehrlich is making sure voters see him arm-in-arm with Morella. Tony Caligiuri, a Morella spokesman, said the congresswoman wasn't consulted about the ad, but doesn't have a problem with it.

"As long as it is portrayed accurately, we don't have any objections," he said. "She works well with Bob Ehrlich. They are friends, so she certainly doesn't avoid him."

Caliguiri noted that Ehrlich and Morella favor abortion rights. But abortion-rights advocates say Morella has a much stronger pro-abortion-rights record. The National Abortion Rights Action League gave Morella a 100 percent rating during the 2001 congressional session, a score she has earned consistently. Ehrlich received a 45.

While Ehrlich describes himself as favoring abortion rights, he has angered advocates on both sides of the debate. In 1998, he voted to restrict the District of Columbia from spending public money on abortions for the poor. But last year he voted to lift a ban on privately funded abortions at overseas U.S. military hospitals.

Ehrlich says that as governor he would not seek to change Maryland's abortions laws, which are considered quite liberal.

Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said Ehrlich must portray himself as a moderate if he wants to win over suburban Washington voters. But, he warned, the ad also could open Ehrlich's record to attacks from the Townsend campaign.

Yesterday, Townsend campaign spokesman Michael Morrill readily responded to Ehrlich's contention that he is a Morella-style Republican "with new ideas to change Maryland," as the ad states.

"The only thing he's trying to change is his stripes," Morrill said, adding that attaching himself to "Morella's coattails" would not change his congressional votes. "His voting record looks like that of a conservative, Newt Gingrich acolyte. Too bad he can't go back and change that, too."

Overall, Ehrlich's ad is skimpy on details, leaving viewers with a general impression of what he might do if he became governor.

Images show him visiting a school in Rockville and a Metro stop in Silver Spring. "I'm Bob Ehrlich," he says. "My platform: Fix the budget mess with honest accounting. Build the [Intercounty Connector]. And fully fund schools in every region. We can change Maryland."

He is careful not to mention his support of legalizing slot machines at state racetracks, a position that polls show is not favored by Montgomery County voters.

The spot was produced by Stevens and Shriefer, a Washington-based media group, and will run at least through Labor Day on network stations in the Washington area. Schurick would not say how much the campaign spent on the ad, except that the price totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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