By one measure, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. leads the nation in holiday cheer.
This season, he sent 40,000 holiday cards to friends and supporters, more than any other governor in the nation, according to stateline.org, a news Web site funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Despite Maryland's small size, Ehrlich beats his nearest competitor - Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell - by about 12,500, the Web site reported.
"The governor has a lot of friends and supporters, a fact that will become more evident in the next year," Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said.
Ehrlich's card features a picture of the governor, first lady Kendel Ehrlich and their sons, Drew and Joshua, sitting in front of a Christmas tree in the governor's mansion. The cards were not printed or distributed at public expense, DeLeaver said.
That is a departure from previous administrations, when Government House trust funds were used for holiday cards.
DeLeaver would not say how much the cards cost or who paid for them, other than to say it was not an individual donor.
She said the list has been growing over the 20 years that Ehrlich has been in public office and that this year's distribution total is about the same as in the past two years. DeLeaver said she didn't know how many cards Ehrlich's predecessors sent. She also said she didn't know whether they were printed on recycled paper, though nothing on the card indicates that they are.
Politicians' holiday cards have become a hot topic this year amid a national outcry from some Christian conservatives about the use of secular or ecumenical expressions of seasonal cheer.
President Bush came under fire for failing to mention Christmas in his holiday cards. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino gave in to pressure from conservatives and changed the name of his city's holiday tree to a Christmas tree.
Ehrlich is generally not a "happy holidays" fellow, choosing "merry Christmas" instead during discussions and radio interviews, and occasionally throwing in a "happy Hanukkah" for good measure.
At the end of last week's Board of Public Works meeting, for example, he wished the crowd "merry Christmas" and, after a slight pause, "happy Hanukkah." State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who was standing next to him, pointedly added, "happy holidays," prompting Ehrlich to turn and chuckle.
His holiday card, though, covers all the bases.
"Season's Greetings" is printed on the front, and inside it reads:
"During this holiday season, let us cherish our family and friends, both near and far. From our family to yours, we send our warmest wishes for a happy Holiday Season, a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and safe New Year."
Some versions included an invitation to the first family's holiday open house, which was Dec. 4. The Ehrlichs also threw a Hanukkah party Sunday.