- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2001

Nattering nabobs of negativism or not, the numbers are noteworthy.
It has been more than three decades since Marylanders last elected a Republican (Spiro Agnew, in fact) governor.
And prospects for ambitious Republican politicians in 2002 are complicated by the prospect of taking on Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, as well as her famous Democratic familys clout and money-raising power.
Two pols getting the most attention as possible Republican nominees would have to give up congressional seats for what could be a quixotic bid to lead a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2-to-1.
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. — a Republican who represents most of Baltimore County, Harford County and northeastern Anne Arundel County — is gearing up fund-raising efforts this week for a fifth term in the U.S. House or a first bid for governor.
While he has banked at least $500,000 to help re-elect him to Congress, Mr. Ehrlich so far has socked away less than $200,000 for a governors race that, by his own estimates, will demand a $6 million to $8 million war chest.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican who has represented most of Montgomery County in Congress since 1987, hasnt opened a state campaign account but has said she is keeping her options open.
Although the price tag for taking on Mrs. Townsend would be large, Mr. Ehrlich said, hes confident that the political climate, not money, will be the deciding issue.
"You try to be honest with yourself, which sometimes is hard for a politician," Mr. Ehrlich said. "Ive not been an executive, but Ive won elections … dealt with high-profile bills and issues and have a comfort level there thats half the equation. The other half is 'Can we win?"
Even Republican strategists agree that the answer to that question depends largely on Democrats, who reaffirmed their power in 1998 by beating the Republicans in a governors race seen — until its final weeks — as a winnable contest against Parris N. Glendening. At the time, some ranked Mr. Glendening as the nations most vulnerable incumbent.
While Mr. Ehrlich says he believes many voters will prefer his more conservative view and working-class roots to Mrs. Townsends political inheritance and the liberal agenda she has shared with Mr. Glendening, hes watching for any Democrat to challenge her.
"A bloody primary is far more relevant," Mr. Ehrlich said, to his prospects for winning the governors race in Democrat-dominated Maryland.
But even though many Democratic politicians in Maryland would like a chance to be governor, they realize the importance of a unified party and a clear victory in that race more than ever with a Republican president now next door, said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, Baltimore Democrat.
"There will be some 'come to Jesus meetings" and lines drawn to make sure, Mr. McFadden said.
Fallout of a hotly contested primary is something Maryland Republicans say they will certainly avoid.
Many state GOP leaders hope Mr. Ehrlich — who is looking to President Bushs approval ratings among Marylanders in a recent poll as one barometer of his chances — will commit to the race this summer. If he does not, they hope Mrs. Morella will run.
But Republican leaders have to factor in chances of winning the governors race against risks — especially real in Mrs. Morellas district — of ceding a congressional seat to a Democrat and perhaps squandering the narrow GOP majority in the House of Representatives.
Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest — whose name has also come up as a potential GOP candidate — said Wednesday hes not ruling out anything, including bids for re-election, as Mrs. Morellas running mate or maybe governor.
Lurking in the background is the specter of legislative redistricting, triggered by the 2000 Census and decided mostly by the Democratic governor and Democrat-controlled General Assembly.
Democrats will surely use it to leverage key elections and make keeping House seats difficult for some of Marylands four congressional Republicans.
"If circumstances were to arise conducive to [running in the gubernatorial race], Id go that way — but only because I saw an opportunity to make things in Maryland work better," said Mr. Gilchrest, who was elected in 1990 to represent the Eastern Shore, most of Anne Arundel County and a sliver of Baltimore in Congress.
"My political ambition is zero," Mr. Gilchrest said, adding that he ran for Congress only because he disagreed with the incumbent on many issues — as he does with the Glendening-Townsend administration. He also believed no candidate should run unopposed.
Maryland Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden, a Republican who represents Howard and Montgomery counties, has been touted as a worthy candidate. Mr. Madden said Wednesday he has no plans to run for governor but hopes Mr. Ehrlich will.
Kevin Igoe, a Maryland GOP political consultant, said he believes other potential candidates arent likely to test the waters publicly unless and until Mr. Ehrlich and Mrs. Morella bow out.
Among the most likely candidates, Mr. Igoe said, would be a business person with a sizable personal fortune he or she could tap to bankroll a campaign.
Near the top of that list would be John Kane, a Montgomery County Republican whose Kane Co. is a commanding presence in a variety of office services, including moving, archive management and logistics.
Mr. Kane has gained visibility as a leading critic of the political gridlock hampering efforts to ease the regions worsening traffic congestion, but he says "its important not to confuse leadership with political ambition."
And while his wife, Mary Kane — who lost a close race last year for a Montgomery County Council seat — is being talked about as a possible ticketmate for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mr. Kane said his own plans dont include political office for at least 10 years.
E.J. Pitkin, a millionaire who opened his wallet to successfully defeat plans to dump dredge spoil from Baltimores shipping channel in the Chesapeake Bay not far from his Eastern Shore home, is another Republican to watch, strategists say. Mr. Pitkin could not be reached for comment.

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