Ehrlich fires up Harris backers

Candidate makes most of endorsement

Election 2008

November 03, 2008|By Robert Little | Robert Little,robert.little@baltsun.com

The guy campaigning next to Andy Harris yesterday - the man sporting the same blue blazer and khakis, offering the same brisk hand shake or high-five - could almost have passed as a twin, which was precisely what Harris had in mind.

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., sprinting alongside Harris throughout a milelong parade route, intoned the congressional candidate's name each time he pressed a voter's palm, which was often.

Ehrlich is Harris' secret weapon in the final days of the 1st Congressional District race, not that either man is interested in keeping it a secret.

In television and mail ads, and in appearances on both shores of the Chesapeake Bay, Republican Harris is showcasing his endorsement from the former governor, who won 67 percent of the votes in the vast congressional district when he lost his bid for a second term two years ago.

For Harris, a state senator from Cockeysville, advertising an association with Ehrlich is a strategy he trusts. In the final days of the Republican primary against incumbent Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, internal polls showed him down by a percentage point, campaign manager Chris Meekins said. Harris plastered the district with evidence of Ehrlich's endorsement in the final week, and won by more than 10 points.

"You'll see why I'm glad I have Bob Ehrlich on my team," Harris said, as he and a group of volunteers took their place in the parade, after Meekins tied the "Endorsed by Ehrlich" signs to the side of their truck. "This district is so Republican-friendly that even in a bad year it treats us well."

That 2008 is a bad year for Republicans is a point that elicits a grudging nod from Harris, and which Ehrlich has readily acknowledged as he plugs for John McCain in national media interviews.

But neither man expects the phenomenon to hold sway in Maryland's 1st District, which they say was redrawn by state Democrats to consolidate Republican votes. Its latest contours also encouraged Ehrlich to leave his seat in Congress to run for governor, and pulled enough Baltimore County Republicans out of Ehrlich's 2nd District to make it an easier victory for a Democrat.

"I do feel like I'm sort of the godfather of the district," Ehrlich said.

Recent polls show Harris with a slight lead over Democrat Frank Kratovil, the Queen Anne's County state's attorney. But a walk through the GOP-leaning neighborhoods of Pasadena yesterday felt more like a Republican landslide - for Ehrlich, if not the would-be congressman at his side.

This was street-level politicking, with straw hats, bunting and Andy Harris T-shirts stretched over the sweaters of his volunteers. Today the candidate plans an early-morning television interview followed by rallies at campaign offices throughout the district, where volunteers plan to urge voters to the polls with thousands of telephone calls.

Yesterday, the group wasn't 100 paces into an annual parade to support Thanksgiving meals for the needy when Harry Mangold, a 62-year-old retired General Motors repairman, jumped out of his porch-front seat and shouted a message heard dozens of times over the ensuing hour.

"We need you back!" Mangold said when he spotted the former governor.

"First we need to elect Andy Harris," Ehrlich replied as he bounded onto the front lawn.

After a round of pictures, Mangold settled back down to watching the parade and football and offered some insight into why he plans to eagerly support Harris at the polls.

"Ehrlich mainly," Mangold said. "He's pushing him, so I'll back him."

The theme carried throughout the day. Cops saluted Ehrlich and entire families in Ravens jerseys implored him for photographs. Each encounter ended with a plea from Ehrlich to vote for Harris.

"Bob, run again!" 58-year-old Laverne Kelm shouted as the former governor walked past.

"First things first," he replied, pointing to Harris as the pair walked over for a handshake.

"You going to run again?" Kelm asked as Ehrlich reached out his hand.

"I don't know," Ehrlich said. Then he pointed to Harris again. "If he wins, it'll help."

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