Bush's 90-minute visit raises up to $1.8 million for Ehrlich

President praises GOP's gubernatorial candidate as honest, hard-working

October 03, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

George W. Bush swooped into Baltimore yesterday evening for a fund-raiser that Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called "the most successful campaign event in the history of Maryland."

According to Ehrlich's gubernatorial campaign, the president raised as much as $1.8 million during his approximately 90-minute visit to the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Inner Harbor.

"The reason this is such a successful event is because people know that Bob Ehrlich will make a great governor for Maryland," Bush said to a cheering crowd of about 1,200 donors. "I believe that's the reason why Democrats and Republicans support this good man -- because he's honest, he's hard-working, and he's got a positive vision for everybody who lives in the state of Maryland."

Because of security constraints, some Ehrlich supporters said they arrived at the Hyatt's second-floor ballroom nearly three hours in advance of the event. The wait allowed those who paid $1,250 per ticket a chance to eat beef, turkey and miniature dessert tarts.

About 100 VIP guests who paid $4,000 each were led into a private side room where they got their picture taken with the president, who at times won more than just political admiration.

When Barry Udoff, president of the Maryland Bail Bond Association, and his wife, Leslie, were led behind a screen for their photo, she told the president he was gorgeous. "He said, `That's the nicest thing I've heard all day.' I told him I wasn't hitting on him or anything."

Bush chatted with Glynda McCarthy of Timonium, a marathon runner, about his latest running time (6.5 minutes per mile in a three-mile race).

"It was a really exciting experience," said her husband, Michael, president of Riparius Construction in Timonium and a former schoolmate of Ehrlich's. The president's visit, he added, "substantiates the seriousness of Bob's candidacy and his ability to run the state. I don't think he'd be here otherwise."

Other prominent guests in the crowd of mostly businessmen included John Paterakis, Baltimore's bakery magnate and developer, and William L. Jews, chief executive of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

Also attending were current and former elected officials, including former Maryland Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and two-time gubernatorial challenger Ellen Sauerbrey.

Close race

Bush's visit highlights Maryland's gubernatorial race as one of the closest -- and most closely watched -- contests in the nation. One senior White House official described the president as "confident" Ehrlich will win. "Bob Ehrlich will have the resources he needs to be competitive," the official said. "And we're sending the president there to a fund-raiser -- that's a big deal."

Bush has attended more than two dozen events this year to help raise money for Republican candidates for governor. Tomorrow he is slated to travel to Boston for a fund-raiser for Mitt Romney, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in Massachusetts.

Money for ads

If the campaign is correct, last night's $1.8 million haul would appear to be the highest-grossing single event for a Maryland candidate, eclipsing Mayor Martin O'Malley's April fund-raiser in Ravens stadium that netted $1 million.

When former President Bill Clinton headlined an event for Ehrlich's Democratic opponent Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in 2000, the campaign raised $800,000. Clinton will reappear for Townsend in Baltimore on Oct. 18, her campaign confirmed yesterday.

Ehrlich said that the money raised last night will be spent on television commercials to respond to "attacks" from Townsend.

The president arrived by helicopter at Fort McHenry at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday. He received a brief history of the site before being swept into his motorcade and taken to the Hyatt, through near-gridlocked downtown traffic during rush hour.

Anti-war protests

Because Bush entered the hotel from the back, he never saw the roughly 200 people gathered at the corner of Pratt and Light streets to protest possible U.S. military action against Iraq.

"I'm here to protest Mr. Bush's appearance and hope Ehrlich hears this. I hope this galvanizes Democrats. What is the problem with letting weapons inspectors do their job? Why do we have to go in for war? Is this Bush getting even for Daddy?" said Rebecca Davis, 55, of Hampden.

State Democrats and the AFL-CIO also had planned to protest, but called it off after Townsend issued a public plea for her supporters not to attend demonstrations that would be disrespectful to Bush.

Warm welcome

When the president took the stage inside, he was welcomed with wild applause. "I think they like you," Ehrlich said to Bush, showcasing a seemingly chummy relationship between the two men. Ehrlich noted later that the president calls him "Gov."

Ehrlich gave Bush a glowing introduction. He then teased him about not bringing a check to the event before bestowing on him an "Ehrlich for Governor" button.

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