- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

Directing his backers to raise $2 million immediately, Maryland Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signaled yesterday that he would leave his U.S. House seat next year in a run for governor if he gets the public and financial support he believes he can garner.

Mr. Ehrlich's go-ahead to his finance committee was greeted with cheers from Republicans, who regard him as their best hope of winning a governorship they haven't held since Spiro Agnew left Annapolis to become vice president.

"The room exploded there's a high degree of confidence that this is doable," said Richard Hug, who led fund-raising efforts that netted $6.4 million for Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey's 1998 gubernatorial campaign.

The move, delayed in the wake of last week's attacks, comes amid a wave of patriotic unity and a day after President Bush's speech to Congress received unprecedented bipartisan support.

"Everyone understands the whole paradigm of Maryland politics and national politics has now changed, [and] having a popular president in one's party helps," Mr. Ehrlich, a centrist, said yesterday.

Although polls show Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy and heir to a powerful Democratic political legacy, is liked and better-known among voters statewide than any likely candidate, Mr. Ehrlich has been encouraged by indications that voters are looking for an alternative.

"You are talking about running against an entrenched monopoly," Mr. Ehrlich said. "But I'm not running against Kathleen Kennedy Townsend my job is to sell [myself]."

A Baltimore County native who attended Princeton University on a scholarship while his father sold cars and his mother worked as a secretary, Mr. Ehrlich believes voters will respond to him favorably when they compare the candidates' backgrounds and political philosophies.

Mr. Ehrlich hopes his supporters will raise $2 million for a gubernatorial bid within a couple of months.

But if that goal isn't met, and if other indicators don't point to a successful statewide campaign, he would reconsider, he said.

However, his supporters have little doubt he'll go forward with his bid.

"As far as I'm concerned, Bobby's a definite I know he can raise the money," said Audrey Scott, a Republican on the Prince George's County Council who has been looking at running for governor if Mr. Ehrlich does not.

Mrs. Scott said she would keep her exploratory committee "viable" but turn her resources over to Mr. Ehrlich as soon as he decides to run.

Montgomery County moving company magnate John Kane, an Ehrlich supporter who also was considering a bid for the Republican nomination if Ehrlich did not run, ended his campaign last week.

Redrawing of congressional districts controlled by Gov. Parris N. Glendening and power brokers of the state's Democratic majority is expected to endanger re-election prospects next year for Republicans, including Mr. Ehrlich, who now represent four of Maryland's eight congressional districts.

For now, Mr. Ehrlich said, any campaigning will be done by others while he stays focused on his work in Congress, which is particularly pressing now.

Mrs. Townsend, who has raised millions but hasn't yet announced her candidacy, said in a statement that she is "happy to be working side by side with congressman Ehrlich and the entire Maryland congressional delegation on the extraordinary challenge our country is facing, as outlined so eloquently by President Bush."

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