As Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. hit the campaign trail with his new running mate Thursday, an image emerged of a modern suburban mom: a smart woman who has balanced raising children with an intellectually challenging career.
Mary Kane is best known for her Cabinet position as Ehrlich's secretary of state and her marriage to a former Republican state chairman. But Ehrlich highlighted a different part of her resume, saying he would draw insights she gained during a yearlong stint as a prosecutor when he shapes anti-crime policy.
"I'm going to take advantage of your brain," the Republican former governor told his lieutenant governor pick during a joint interview on the Clarence Mitchell IV radio show, and then announced that Kane's portfolio would include criminal justice.
Ehrlich's choice of the 48-year-old Potomac woman, announced late Wednesday, represents a nod to the 121,000 registered Republicans Ehrlich must energize in Montgomery County and to women, who tend to prefer Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
She also could help with money. Though the Ehrlich campaign is stressing her humble roots as the daughter of Irish immigrants, Kane and her businessman husband own a $3 million home on two acres of land and put all three of their children through private school. Her husband's formidable Rolodex would be at her disposal, and self-financing could allow the campaign to exceed spending limits.
During a first day that included appearances in Baltimore, Silver Spring and Charles County, Kane seemed eager to avoid any missteps, repeating a safe refrain that she "supports" Ehrlich and the state has being "going down the wrong road" under O'Malley.
"I will be visible," Kane said on Mitchell's WBAL program. Ehrlich said they would not agree on all policy questions, but she said any conflicts would be resolved behind closed doors.
"We're not going to be out yelling at each other," she said. "We trust each other."
She said she wants to tour the state and talk about small businesses and jobs, themes Ehrlich and O'Malley both have been stressing.
Kane frequently directed her comments to Ehrlich during the day, addressing him directly instead of the crowds that gathered to hear them. At the Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy charter school in Baltimore, she gestured to Ehrlich and advised the students: "We don't come from wealthy backgrounds."
The Ehrlich campaign declined requests for an interview with Kane, but she took questions from reporters after the morning rally in Silver Spring and the afternoon tour of the Baltimore school.
Her husband, John, attended the morning rally but declined most questions afterward, referring reporters to the Ehrlich campaign. He did say that he'd vote for his wife and that he'd attend campaign events — "if I get a free meal out of it."
Reporters asked Mary Kane about the federal lawsuit filed against the Kane Co., an office moving firm owned by her husband. The 12-count complaint accuses him of double-billing on government contracts, providing inflated prices and failing to pay mandated salaries.
She sought to distance herself from the firm, saying the suit has affected her "as a wife." She was on the board of directors from 1997 to 2003, when the fraud is alleged to have occurred.
Ehrlich brushed off questions about Kane raised by the Maryland Democratic Party, most of which relate to legal troubles her husband now faces.
"Nobody wants to hear about that stuff," he said. "We should focus on what people want us to focus on," he said, adding that the Democratic party "files complaints about us on a daily basis."
But the Democrats are unlikely to let the matter drop. Responding to Ehrlich, the party sent reporters a statement gleaning some of the more salacious tidbits from the federal complaint, including an e-mail in which John Kane allegedly told an African-American businessman that he owed his success to minority "set aside" programs.
The Democrats' missive concluded with a series of questions, apparently for Ehrlich:
"Do you agree with John Kane that minority 'set aside' programs are not part of the 'real world?' " the party asked. "What is your position on Maryland's Minority and Women owned business program?"
Kane's parents immigrated from Ireland in the 1950s. Her mother was a seamstress and her father a pipefitter, according to the Ehrlich campaign. Born in Wilmington, Del., Kane graduated from Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg in 1984 and landed a job drafting correspondence for Democratic Sen. Joe Biden.
Friends described Kane as "down to earth." When she was in her mid-30s, and her children were in school, Kane studied law at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
"When they were in classes, she was in classes," said Tricia Lloyd, a friend for the past decade. "When the kids were doing homework, she was doing homework."