Political notebook: Ehrlich candidacy energizes Howard Republicans

April 11, 2010|By Larry Carson

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s entry into the Maryland gubernatorial race has Howard Republicans excited, hoping that his campaign against Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley will help them by boosting interest in local races and by bringing more voters to the polls. Democrats and a political scientist disagree, however.

Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman has announced the formation of a Howard for Ehrlich organization, and county GOP Chairwoman Joan Becker said she hopes Ehrlich's visits to the county will help improve on the 2006 gubernatorial election voter turnout of 64 percent.

"I think it's fantastic," said Trent Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive who is hoping the national consternation over federal spending will help her unseat incumbent Democrat Ken Ulman. "It will enhance all our races," she said, and force Democrats to defend their policies. "It makes the issues more stark," she said.

Trent Kittleman is one of a trio of former Ehrlich administration officials likely to run for Howard County offices. Former state Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan and Homeland Security Secretary Dennis R. Schrader are campaigning for County Council seats, though neither has formally announced or filed to run.

Schrader said Ehrlich's move edged him closer to running.

"Having a strong candidate at the top like Bob, that will be good," Schrader said. "It brings me a lot closer to a positive decision [to run]. It definitely makes a difference."

Since Howard has been a bellwether county in Maryland for the past two gubernatorial elections, Becker expects Ehrlich to campaign here, further boosting local Republicans. In 2006, when Ehrlich lost to O'Malley, Howard voters gave the Democratic mayor of Baltimore 52,651 votes compared with 51,974 votes for Ehrlich. Ehrlich gained 1,500 votes on O'Malley among absentee ballots to tighten the outcome. That's a pretty slim margin, Becker pointed out.

Now, even lesser-known novice candidates who are up against experienced, entrenched Democrats are hopeful that Ehrlich will have political coattails. Kyle Lorton, a Republican seeking the District 13 seat held by Democratic Sen. James N. Robey, and Anthony Jordan, a Republican who is running for the District 2 County Council seat held by Calvin Ball, said Ehrlich's well-known name and his need to win in a swing county like Howard will help them, too.

"From what I can tell [by] door-knocking, the message of fiscal responsibility resonates with lots of people," Lorton said. Since that's also Ehrlich's message, he thinks it will help.

"Having a large mass of voters turn out at the polls could help me," Jordan said, adding that at least it will push voters "to take a look at a local candidate like me."

But Michael McPherson, chairman of the county Democrats, says the Republicans' local hopes are a pipe dream.

"I don't think it will be a factor," he said. "Here's a guy [Ehrlich] who has been out of the limelight for the past four years. He's living on his past record." Howard County, McPherson said "has been governed well, and there have been no scandals. People in the county have a very positive view of Democrats."

Ehrlich's lack of political coattails is fact, not speculation, said University of Maryland, Baltimore County, political scientist Donald F. Norris, who said jokingly that his views were "famous last words eight months before an election."

Republicans argue that the national political unrest and anger at incumbents this year will benefit them, just as the past two Maryland elections were influenced by the national wave favoring Democrats. Norris disagrees.

"The GOP bench is very weak, and it didn't strengthen while he [Ehrlich] was governor or since."

In Howard County, Norris, a county resident, said, "I sense that people are satisfied with Ulman and are not upset about much of anything."

Party switches
Candidates who switch parties are becoming more common it seems, and keeping up can get confusing. In addition to John W. Bailey IV, the former Republican now running as a Democrat for the House of Delegates seat held by Elizabeth Bobo, two other potential candidates have switched.

Jeffrey L. Underwood, whose name appeared on the ballot in 2006 as the name of his realty business, "Uncommon," is again seeking the west Columbia County Council seat, according to the county Republican party Web site, but this time as a Republican. Underwood garnered only 1 percent of the vote with the name ploy in the Democratic primary four years ago, which was won by current Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty. Underwood has not officially filed as a candidate, however, and he did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Jim Adams, 68, who ran in 2006 as a Republican for County Council District 5 covering the western county, now intends to run as a Democrat for state Senate against incumbent Allan H. Kittleman, he said. Four years ago, Adams dropped out of the council race and supported former county police Chief Wayne Livesay, who lost to current incumbent Greg Fox.

Adams said he realizes the chances of beating Kittleman are slim at best, but added that he has a good reason for running.

"I just can't see one person running for office without opposition," the retired accounting worker said. Besides, Democratic and independent registration is high enough in Kittleman's district, he said, "that somebody is going to break through."

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