The noontime crowd was just arriving at Johnny's on the Half Shell, but inside the popular Capitol Hill haunt, former Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. had already finished nearly a half-dozen TV and radio spots for his first book and was preparing for a series of afternoon interviews.
"It's a lot like campaigning," said Mr. Ehrlich, who started day three of his local media blitz on Friday with a predawn radio interview. "I love giving interviews, talking issues, talking politics — the give and take. There's just no election day."
Mr. Ehrlich, who in 2003 became the first Republican governor in Democrat-leaning Maryland in 36 years, is also trying to establish himself as a strong conservative voice in national politics and help GOP candidate Mitt Romney win the 2012 presidential election.
His book, "Turn This Car Around: The Road Map to Restoring America," is written for a national audience and, being released this week, is timed for what Mr. Ehrlich calls "a very important election."
That Mr. Ehrlich is helping Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this year might appear a surprise, considering he was elected to Congress in 1994 in the same GOP-wave election that elected Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich the House speaker.
Though he admires Mr. Gingrich's intellect, he said the country needs the kind of strong leadership Mr. Romney can provide.
"Newt is an idea machine," said Mr. Ehrlich, chairman of Mr. Romney's presidential campaign in Maryland. "The big brain is real. But the big charge against Newt is not the personal stuff, it's his management style. He's never really been a manager. Members had some problems with his management style as speaker of House. After the Barack Obama experiment, the country wants a manager. They want somebody who can make decisions. That's where Barack Obama failed."
Mr. Ehrlich, 54, appeared as animated and unapologetic as he was in elected office and in the anecdotes he wrote for the book, which he called "a blunt collection of dispatches from America's culture wars," including "high-profile battles" with the media establishment and other liberals.
Among the liberal targets at which Mr. Ehrlich took aim is the Occupy movement. He said he considers the concern among middle- and working-class people about the future of the American dream an essential topic of debate for the presidential campaigns and "the most important issue of this generation going forward." But he said the movement's members are not representative of those larger concerns.
"I distinguish the progressive, wacky, not-very-serious people on the corner from the real, middle-class angst around the country," he said. "I dismiss as unserious this loose confederation of hard left, don't-want-to-take-a shower progressives. ... They don't take themselves seriously."
Mr. Ehrlich, who as a teenager from a working-class Baltimore-area family was given the opportunity to attend a private school largely on his athletic prowess, said he realizes that many public schoolers don't have those benefits and thinks failing public school systems remain one of the biggest problems facing the country.
Among the more infamous battles in which Mr. Ehrlich engaged as governor and included in the book was his attempt in 2004 to take control of 11 schools that had long failed students in Baltimore, where current Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley served as mayor.
"We now have many generations of dysfunctional public school graduates in some cities," he said. "We've cheated these children out of their constitutional rights. It's immoral; hence my big battle with the black caucus, teachers union, Martin O'Malley and others in Baltimore city."
Mr. Ehrlich described himself as an "all-of-the-above guy" when it comes to fixing public, urban education systems, including the use of charter schools, privatization or vouchers.
"If it works, I'm a 'yes' guy. I'm pretty emotional about it because that's my story," said Mr. Ehrlich, who in his first year as governor in 2003 signed legislation he got through the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to open the state's first charter school.
While he carried job-approval ratings above 50 percent into his final year in office in 2006, it wasn't enough to prevent a loss to Mr. O'Malley, who won 53 percent of the vote to Mr. Ehlrich's 46 percent.
Mr. Ehrlich remained in the public eye, hosting a commentary program with his wife, Kendel, for several years on WBAL Radio and making frequent popular appearances on the WJFK Radio program the Sports Junkies.
Mr. Ehrlich's attempt to win back the governor's mansion last year fell short, with Mr. O'Malley securing 56 percent of the vote to Mr. Ehrlich's 42 percent. The campaign was marred by charges that a longtime Ehrlich aide tried to suppress black votes in the waning hours of Election Day, using robocalls to instruct Democratic voters to stay home because President Obama and Mr. O'Malley had won.
Mr. Ehrlich, who last week testified as a character witness in support of his onetime aide, Paul Schurick, declined to comment on the trial, in which closing arguments concluded Monday.
Mr. Ehrlich acknowledged missing elected office a bit, particularly being governor, "because you can just wake up and do things," but he reiterated that he is finished with Maryland politics.
He said he's happy in his first nine months at D.C. law firm King & Spalding but is still not part of Washington culture, preferring instead to help Mr. Romney, write at night and spend time with his wife and two boys, which includes helping coach 12-year-old son Drew'sfootball team.
He says books sales have been good, including orders for more than 1,000 copies at a signing last week at a Maryland Republican Party function, and that reviews have been largely fair, but split between the liberal and conservative press.
"No surprises," Mr. Ehrlich said, adding that he already is 50 to 60 pages into a second book, which will focus on "a new American social contract" and is "a natural extension" of the first one.
"We're living football, politics and family," Mr. Ehrlich said.
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