Three Republicans Near Decisions On County Races

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December 13, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Three more Republicans are closer to becoming Republican candidates for Howard County executive or the County Council, they said, while party regulars continue to promote the GOP's chances for a big comeback in 2010.

Trent Kittleman, a former Ehrlich administration transportation official and member of a prominent county Republican family, said she's increasingly convinced she can run a good race against Democratic incumbent Ken Ulman.

"The longer I am out there talking to people, the more positive I am," Kittleman said. One major concern - that she can raise enough money for a serious campaign - is also easing.

"Money doesn't really frighten me," she said, referring to Ulman's prolific fundraising. She needs to raise about $250,000 at minimum, she said, and now feels she can do it.

"I am actually looking toward very early February" for a possible official announcement, she said, though she allowed her stepson, state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, to introduce her as someone "running for county executive" at a political fundraiser Dec. 2 at Savage Mill (which was also attended by former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.).

The event was for Kyle Lorton, a sales executive at W.R. Grace, the Columbia-based chemical company, who is carrying the GOP banner against state Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat who was formerly county executive and county police chief.

Lorton, 51, said, "I'm real concerned about the direction of both the state and nation in a shift to the left." He said he'll stress his own qualifications but also plans to spotlight Robey's role in raising income and sales taxes.

Ehrlich said Robey's voting record "is pretty far left" in a moderate district, and Lorton might be just the candidate to help Republicans boost the GOP's 14-vote state Senate minority. Robey pushed through a 30 percent local income tax increase as county executive and voted for a state sales tax increase as senator.

Robey said Republicans chronically complain about taxes but aren't willing to live with reductions in vital services like schools, public safety and highways. "I hate to think where we would be if we hadn't done the very difficult things of raising taxes. Do they think I like taxes?" he asked.

County Democratic Party Chairman Mike McPherson said Ehrlich was no slouch in raising taxes either. "The Ehrlich spelling of tax increases was 'fees,' " McPherson said.

Dennis R. Schrader, another former top Ehrlich official and later a Bush administration homeland security official, also attended the Lorton event and said he's forming an exploratory committee for a possible run for his former District 3 County Council seat. If he enters the race, he would probably run against incumbent Democrat Jen Terrasa.

"I'll probably make a decision in the first part of the new year. I've done this a lot of times before, and I'm being very deliberate," he said, declining to criticize Terrasa, a first-term council member. Schrader first ran for County Council in 1990 and lost, but then won the open seat in 1994. Four years later, he was the GOP nominee for county executive but lost to Robey. His wife, Sandra B. Schrader, served five years as a Republican state senator for the area until Robey defeated her in 2006.

Robert Flanagan, a former state delegate and transportation secretary under Ehrlich, said he's "encouraged" by responses he's received going door to door in two test precincts, though he's still not committed to running. He attended the Dec. 7 community information meeting on the redevelopment planned for Normandy Shopping Center, listening as residents asked questions.

Republicans say the political pendulum is swinging their way, and they plan on fielding a strong team of local candidates that they hope will be headed by Ehrlich.

Republicans also note that their party held the area's Senate seat for 12 years before Robey's victory. "This seat is very winnable for Republicans," said Allan Kittleman, who is also Senate minority leader.

County GOP Chairwoman Joan Becker said the strong Democratic edge in registrations in General Assembly District 13 can be neutralized by independents and conservative Democrats angry about the recession and unemployment. "It will be a referendum on the economy," she said about the 2010 election.

Democrats note that the recession, ever-larger deficits and the financial crisis all came under Republican President George W. Bush, while Republicans say that Bush is history and voters will now hold Democrats and President Barack Obama responsible.

Ed Priola, a Republican running for the House of Delegates in District 13, said he feels the energy while waving signs and knocking on doors in the district.

"I think the point is, we've got the wind at our backs," he said. "There's very much an anti-incumbent mood."

As if in answer, about 100 Democrats gathered at a Guilford Road office building the night after the Lorton event to help Terrasa build her campaign kitty for a re-election run.

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