Ehrlich backs challenger in party primary

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ANNAPOLIS — Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has thrown his support behind state Sen. Andrew P. Harris‘ attempt to unseat a fellow Republican, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, in the upcoming congressional races.

Mr. Ehrlich’s chief fundraiser, Richard E. Hug, has joined Mr. Harris‘ exploratory committee and cultivated donors for a Harris fundraiser last week in Baltimore that featured an appearance by Mr. Ehrlich.

“Many of you know [Mr. Harris]. He is a tireless campaigner and has an excellent shot at winning this seat,” Mr. Hug wrote to supporters in advance of the fundraiser.

In addition, Mr. Harris is a frequent guest on Mr. Ehrlich’s weekend radio show.

“As part of the governor’s leadership team in the Senate, I think I showed [Mr. Ehrlich] loyalty, and he knows about my reputation as a party builder,” Mr. Harris said yesterday. “I think it’s going to become clear that party building is an important part of this race. And I think I come closer to [Mr. Ehrlich‘s] idea of how we should be building the party.”

Mr. Harris spent four years working for votes for Mr. Ehrlich in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and with the help of other Republican lawmakers raised $180,000 for Mr. Ehrlich’s unsuccessful re-election bid last year.

Mr. Harris has appeared on Mr. Ehrlich’s WBAL-AM (1090) show twice since beginning his campaign, including a full two hours on June 2.

Mr. Ehrlich has not publicly endorsed Mr. Harris, but continues to laud him and his work.

“We think [Mr. Harris] is a talented guy,” said Greg Massoni, a spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich. “He’s part of the Republican bench and has a bright future.”

Mr. Ehrlich must consider carefully whether to publicly endorse Mr. Harris, a Gilchrest spokesman said yesterday.

“I’m not sure why [Mr. Ehrlich would] want to get involved in a campaign against a congressman who always pulled better numbers than him on the [Eastern] Shore,” said Tony Caligiuri, Mr. Gilchrest’s chief of staff. “We always operate under the assumption that [Mr.] Ehrlich’s a pretty smart guy, politically.”

Mr. Ehrlich supported Mr. Gilchrest over state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, Eastern Shore Republican, in the 2004 primary election, which spurred Mr. Colburn to threaten to leave the Republican Party.

However, shortly after winning the 2004 primary election, Mr. Gilchrest testified against Mr. Ehrlich’s proposal to legalize slot machines in Maryland.

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