Republicans In Maryland, Election 2010

Posted on March 18, 2010

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In this year of voter discontent, incumbents are supposed to be vulnerable  — especially Democratic incumbents.  That’s the consensus following Republican Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts to the Senate seat long held by Sen. Ted Kennedy, and before him, by President John F. Kennedy.

But Democratic leaders here in Maryland remain strong and popular, and their bench of candidates-in-waiting is deep.  Republicans have a short list of credible candidates. My list of credible Republicans  for statewide office is former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and . . . Give me a minute, I’ll think of someone else.

BOB EHRLICH

Well, Bob Ehrlich. And Mr. Ehrlich is having trouble deciding where he might have the best  chance of winning, according to political chatter on blogs by Washington Post and Baltimore Sun observers.  No wonder. Ehrlich’s choice is to run against Gov. Martin O’Malley or Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Maybe he will decide that his career prospects are better in the private sector, on WBAL Radio. At age 52, there will be other election years for Mr. Ehrlich.

O’Malley has proven to be an able executive as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland. O’Malley ousted Ehrlich from Government House by a convincing margin in 2006. O’Malley even won decisively in Baltimore County, where statewide elections are now most likely to be decided.

MARTIN O'MALLEY

Gov. O’Malley is not universally admired in Maryland.  His lead over Ehrlich in early polls is modest. However, the polls seem to indicate that O’Malley has an unshakable base of popularity in this Democratic state.  Ehrlich would likely run a good race against O’Malley in 2010. O’Malley would probably not win by a landslide. But O’Malley would almost certainly win, according to a detailed analysis by Maryland Politics Watch, the state’s most prominent political blog.

Two Maryland political columnists wrote detailed pieces in The Gazette this week about former Gov. Ehrlich’s hesitation. Blair Lee IV speculated that Mr. Ehrlich is doing just fine by waiting, since he’ll draw more political attacks once he’s a  declared candidate. Probably true.

Barry Rascovar had this to say:

“Yet, this could be a fool’s errand for Ehrlich. The Republican may be getting into a battle he cannot win. Maryland is one of the nation’s most heavily Democratic states. Every positive reason for seeking the governorship this year comes with a negative as to why Ehrlich should resist the temptation.”

The speculation that Ehrlich might challenge Sen. Barbara Mikulski instead of running against O’Malley is just that. Speculation. Mr. Ehrlich would have an excellent shot at winning a Senate seat in Maryland, if he was running for an open seat. But the Senate seat is not open. Sen. Mikulski is only 73, and she clearly has no intention of retiring soon.

BARBARA MIKULSKI

I don’t see how Bob Ehrlich could win against Sen. Mikulski. She would have deep support among union members, minorities, Democrats, and everyone even slightly left of center.  More to the point, Sen Mikulski would have a political “firewall” of support from female voters. That so-called “firewall” suddenly collapsed for Hillary Clinton, in the days leading up to her Maryland primary against Barack Obama. But that was a unique primary election. The firewall would be indestructible for Mikulski in a general election against Mr. Ehrlich. Who would be left to vote for Bob Ehrlich? White males who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Ron Smith? (Sorry, including Ron Smith in the same sentence with Limbaugh is not fair to Mr. Smith, who is a thoughtful conservative.)

Most observers still believe Bob Ehrlich will run against Gov. O’Malley. But there is one other possibility.

KENDEL EHRLICH

Kendel Ehrlich could run against Sen. Mikulski.  I told you I would think of someone else.

The firewall would not be there to protect Sen. Mikulski in that case. Mrs. Ehrlich, 48, the former first lady of Maryland, is widely known, liked, and respected. As an attorney, she worked as both a public defender and a prosecutor.

Kendel Ehrlich would be perfectly positioned to set up the contrast of herself as a bright, new, political outsider, compared with Sen. Mikulski, who has served for more than 30 years in the House and Senate.

Mrs. Ehrlich just might be able to generate the kind of newcomer political magic that worked for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. It’s unpredictable.

There is one complicating factor. Would voters react favorably or unfavorably to a husband-wife ticket of Bob Ehrlich for governor and Kendel Ehrlich for Senate?

I have no idea what will happen. But I’m guessing it would be highly unlikely for both Bob and Kendel to run in the same year.

BTW, can anyone suggest any plausible Republican candidates for the statewide offices of Comptroller and Attorney General?

— Bernie (John) Hayden

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