GOP's Rolle is taking grass-roots approach

Attorney general nominee underfunded, determined

Maryland Votes 2006

12 Days Until Nov. 7

October 26, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

UPPER MARLBORO -- Scott L. Rolle, the Republican nominee for attorney general, plays with an energetic yellow Labrador retriever puppy straining on a pink leash as he chats with the dog's owner about the joys of pets. Weaving his fondness for dogs into a campaign pitch, Rolle noted that he has made the prosecution of animal-abuse cases a priority during his dozen years as Frederick County state's attorney.

"Any person who is kind to animals is a good person in my book," said Linda Ivy, the mother of the dog's owner, squinting at Rolle's literature emblazoned with a family photograph that includes three dogs. "We are going to have to give him a second look."

That's what Rolle likes to hear. He is on friendly turf at the car show here. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 89, which organized the event Sunday to raise money for a memorial to fallen officers, endorsed him.

But he is an underfunded and little-known Republican from a midsize county, campaigning in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. Polls place the 45-year-old significantly behind his better-known Democratic opponent, Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, 43.

So, he says, he continues with a shoe-leather, small-crowd type of campaigning.

He tells anyone who will listen about himself, his three terms as Frederick County's chief prosecutor and his hopes for succeeding retiring J. Joseph Curran Jr. as legal counsel to the state.

There is limited excitement about the contest, however, which is competing for voter attention with heated races for governor and U.S. Senate. Still, for the first time in 20 years, no incumbent is running for attorney general. The attorney general interprets state law, oversees an office of nearly 400 lawyers who advise state agencies and represents Maryland government in legal matters.

Rolle hopes to be the first Republican in the office since 1919. For several years, he has been considered a key player on what has been a thin bench for the state Republican Party, someone who had the potential for statewide office.

He ran for Congress two years ago, losing a primary to incumbent Roscoe G. Bartlett and angering some party members who chided his ambition and said he should have waited for an open seat. His name was on the short list in 2005 to replace Thomas J. DiBiagio as U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Rolle said he was persuaded to enter the attorney general contest by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. He started the race at a disadvantage: Gansler had begun laying the groundwork for the contest four years earlier, and had amassed a seven-figure campaign account by September. Rolle had $69,000.

Ehrlich has criticized Curran -- father-in-law of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Martin O'Malley -- and has urged voters to elect Rolle so he has "my lawyer" representing the executive branch. Rolle insists he would be independent if elected, and he said, "I have absolutely no political agenda that I am bringing to that office."

The third of four children, Rolle grew up in Montgomery County, where former Rep. Jack Kemp, who has held fundraisers for him, was a family friend and neighbor. The family home was a place where dinner-table talk was as likely to be current events as what went on in school.

"He was a normal kid, a little mischievous and a little hard-headed at times," said his mother, Carol Rolle.

His father, Bill Rolle, a self-described "political junkie," ran a Washington public relations firm for decades. Now, in retirement, he runs a recently opened franchise of MaggieMoo, an ice cream store, in Frederick.

While at Georgetown Preparatory School, Rolle played what he says was passable rhythm guitar in a band put together by a group of friends who called themselves Crossbow.

Rolle was "outgoing and confident," the guy who got the band its gigs, drew pretty girls, could chitchat about anything, said Andy Hayes, the group's bass player who lives in Winchester, Va.

Hayes and Rolle worked together for several summers for a company leading whitewater raft tours. It was a job Rolle kept through law school. "He was a lead guide ... a natural leader," Hayes recalled.

Rolle went to the University of Dayton in Ohio, where he thought he could parlay good times at the student radio station into a career in entertainment law.

At Ohio Northern University Law School, where he crammed three years of academic work into 2 1/2 to finish in 1986, the required trial advocacy class captivated him.

"He was not an honor student and he was not in law review. That is why he is a good trial lawyer. ... He is a people person who can talk to anybody," said Joseph G. Racioppi, a New Jersey friend from law school, who has since taken Rolle on a tour of New York City's famed murder sites.

Rolle landed at the Frederick County prosecutor's office in 1987, sharing a one-bedroom apartment in Frederick with his cat, Duffy.

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