Ehrlich trips on a few missteps

THE POLITICAL GAME

Strategy: The GOP nominee may have governor's race ground to make up after comments on child welfare, guns and his backing of Mitchell.

September 17, 2002|By Sarah Koenig and Howard Libit | Sarah Koenig and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign will likely spend the coming days tending to three tactical wounds the Republican gubernatorial candidate suffered last week.

Two of the injuries were self-inflicted -- the hardest kind to heal. First, he told a roomful of 300 child-welfare advocates in Columbia: "The Children's Defense Fund and I don't agree on anything. If you look at their philosophical agenda, it's not mine." A few people in the audience quietly booed.

The next day, the man who has to win over "soft" Democrats in Montgomery County and elsewhere, mentioned he might seek to undo a couple of state gun laws if he is elected governor. Naturally, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's camp was delighted by this unexpected gift, which they probably have yet to fully unwrap.

The third wound was not exactly Ehrlich's fault, though it hints at what could be a flawed strategy regarding Baltimore's African-American voters.

Ehrlich campaigned hard in white neighborhoods for Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV. He also transferred more than $70,000 in campaign funds to "Democrats for Ehrlich," a group closely tied to Mitchell.

The idea was that Ehrlich would help Mitchell win his primary in the redrawn 44th District, and Mitchell, in turn, would then deliver those very African-American voters to Ehrlich in November.

On primary election day, Ehrlich's people were confident. Despite Mitchell's bad press -- the unreported loans that led to a sharp reprimand for ethical breaches from his Senate colleagues -- they thought he would be re-elected. "Don't underestimate the power of the Mitchell name," they said.

But it seems no one foresaw just how unpopular Mitchell was on his own turf. Last Tuesday, Del. Verna L. Jones won 68.5 percent of the vote to Mitchell's 31.5 percent.

Well into primary night, Mitchell tried to spin victory from the woolly vortex of defeat by promising supporters that together they would elect Ehrlich to avenge their loss.

But having a loser promote your candidacy simply doesn't work as well as having a winner do it. Ehrlich says he is no fair-weather friend to Mitchell, and will welcome his help in the coming months. Will Ehrlich give him a job? "There have been no discussions about that, that I know of," said a spokeswoman.

Top Democrats shift into high gear for Nov. election

With the bruising primary election over, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. are wasting no time in trying to get as many Democrats as possible elected in November. To further the cause, they've scheduled back-to-back fund-raisers this week.

Tonight at the Harbor Court Hotel in Baltimore, Miller will hold a $500-a-ticket event honoring the Democratic Senate nominees, with proceeds going to Miller's Maryland Democratic Senatorial Committee.

Taylor will hold a $250-a-ticket event tomorrow night at Martin's West in Woodlawn, raising money for his House Democratic Unity Committee. Taylor created the committee just three weeks ago.

The committees enable Miller and Taylor to send as much money as they can raise to whichever Democratic candidates they want. "Clearly, there are colleagues in various parts of the state that need special attention," Taylor said.

Taylor added that his event won't just be a fund-raiser, but also a "real, honest pep rally." He'll hold a closed-door caucus before the public event, as rival Democrats try to put hard feelings from the primary behind them.

`Absent-minded' effort benefits Rosenberg

Savvy politicians always encourage supporters to fill out absentee ballots, but few go to the lengths of Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg. The 41st District candidates took out an ad in the Baltimore Jewish Times reminding readers to request absentee ballots if they were planning to go away for the Jewish High Holy Days.

Posing in a photo between Hoffman and Rosenberg was one of the most well-known figures in Baltimore's Jewish community -- basketball star Tamir Goodman. Goodman was shown holding his completed absentee ballot application, just before departing for Israel to play professional basketball.

The ad campaign appeared to pay big dividends for Rosenberg, who held just a 54-vote edge for the third-place spot at the end of election night. After absentee ballots were counted, his lead had grown to 239 votes.

Rosenberg said he learned his lesson from his first election 20 years ago: He was third on election night, but won thanks to absentee ballots. "This margin was narrower," he said.

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