Getty lends his experience to Md. gubernatorial race

Carroll delegate manages Ehrlich's campaign

October 15, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The fundamentals remain the same, Joseph M. Getty says. You craft an appealing message, you deliver it to as many people as possible through evening phone calls, mailed brochures and face-to-face chats, and then you try to coax - or shove - supporters to the polls Election Day.

That's how Getty won a state delegate seat in Carroll County, and it's how he expects his candidate to win a hotly contested governor's race. Because the basics never change, Getty says, his transition this year from running his local campaigns to serving as political director for Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s gubernatorial campaign has felt seamless.

"You sort of anticipate a big difference, and this is obviously a higher-profile race, but in essence you're running the same campaign," said Getty, a two-term Republican state delegate from Manchester who is not seeking re-election this year. "You run the door to door and the phone-banking, and the issues are the same. It's just a higher playing field."

Getty's post in the Ehrlich campaign is the most obvious manifestation of a relationship between the candidate and Carroll Republicans that many describe as deep and strong.

Ehrlich will speak at Martin's catering hall in Westminster about 5 p.m. today and try to generate excitement among voters in a county where Republicans outnumber Democrats by about 10,000 among 85,000 registered voters.

GOP candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey won Carroll with 69 percent of the vote in her 1998 loss to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Even before Ehrlich announced his candidacy, he said that he probably would need 65 percent of the Carroll vote to beat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Despite the numerical advantages, Ehrlich can't take Carroll for granted, Getty said. The GOP candidate needs strong voter turnout in friendly counties, and events such as today's rally help generate that turnout.

"You can't ignore your base," Getty said. "All the polls show the governor's race a dead heat, so the winner is going to be the candidate who generates the voter turnout."

Visits to Carroll

Ehrlich's visit to Carroll is his second since he became an official candidate. He appeared at a fund-raiser for his campaign at a Woodbine farm in August.

Townsend has not visited the county since the spring. Her campaign spokesman, Peter Hamm, said that because Townsend's views on gun control and abortion don't resonate in Carroll and because the county has a relatively small population, the lieutenant governor probably will continue focusing her campaign elsewhere.

"We would not expect to win there, but we do care a great deal about Carroll County," Hamm said yesterday.

Both candidates probably will spend the next few weeks rallying their bases of support, said Matthew A. Crenson, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University. Crenson noted the bad press Ehrlich's views on guns have generated recently, with a sniper at large in the Washington area.

"He'll want to counteract that by boosting turnout in places where he's strong, and Carroll County certainly seems a good place to do that," Crenson said.

Getty said he hopes that Townsend's lack of focus on Carroll will be a sign to rural voters that the state's Democrats spend too much time worrying about urban areas.

During an interview in his office yesterday, he repeatedly pointed to large maps that showed red blotches of Democratic votes from 1998 clustered around Baltimore and Washington, and large expanses of Republican blue across the state's more rural counties.

Getty, 50, did not expect to be intimately involved in an election in the fall after he announced in April that he wouldn't seek another term. Changes to District 5 had crowded him into a two-seat district with two other incumbent Republicans, Nancy R. Stocksdale and Carmen Amedori. Also, he had promised that he would serve only two terms when he was elected in 1994. So he stepped aside and planned to focus again on his law practice in Hampstead, and on his wife and six children.

But then Getty received a call from Ehrlich's campaign asking whether he would interview for the political director's job. He had known Ehrlich for years. One of Getty's legislative aides later worked for Ehrlich, and the congressman spoke at Getty's fund-raiser in the summer last year. When Ehrlich called to offer him the job, Getty said, neither had to say much.

"He told me, `You know where I am on this, so let's do it,'" Getty remembered.

As political director, Getty manages the nuts and bolts of Ehrlich's campaign. He organized campaign committees in each county and visited all of those committees in July and August to talk about campaign tactics and about Ehrlich's message. Each county chairman reports to him every week or two.

Getty also organizes campaign stops, using his knowledge of issues from the legislature to help Ehrlich tailor his messages to concerns in specific areas. He organized a visit to a crab-packing plant in Cambridge because of concerns there about new crabbing regulations.

He supervises direct-mail and telephone pitches, and he participates in the campaign staff's more sweeping strategy sessions. He works from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and fields about 40 phone calls a day, he said. His family often visits him at the Towson campaign headquarters instead of waiting to see him when he returns home.

Getty's `a strategist'

Getty deemed the grueling work among the most rewarding of his career. "I sort of like the background work more than the up-front stuff you do as a candidate," he said.

That doesn't surprise longtime colleagues, who watched Getty master legislative tactics during his eight years as a delegate.

"You see, Joe's a strategist," said state Sen. Larry E. Haines, the Westminster Republican who is staging Ehrlich's rally today. "He's very well-versed in campaign strategic issues. He's had his ear to the ground on statewide issues and politics for a number of years. Now, he's really bringing something to that campaign."

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