- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

ANNAPOLIS State Republican leaders, still jubilant over winning the governor's office last month, said their party is moving toward parity with Democrats, who have long dominated Maryland politics.
At a state Republican convention this weekend, party officials and elected leaders said the Republican foothold in Maryland is where Republicans in Virginia were 15 years ago, when the commonwealth began transforming from a Democratic stronghold to a Republican-controlled state.
"It happened in our neighboring state," said state Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus. "If the Democratic Party keeps moving left as radically as it has, it is going to happen."
The man widely credited for the Republicans' new prominence, Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., told a standing-room-only crowd yesterday that the party must stay united and continue to engage blacks and Hispanics to grow in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.
"Sometimes holding power isn't easy. The fact of it is, we are not used to it. As we get used to it, we will grow," Mr. Ehrlich told the more than 300 party leaders gathered in the Radisson Hotel ballroom.
"It's real easy being the minority party in any legislature," he said. "Nobody pays attention to you. You don't get crowds like this. The press doesn't show up. The cameras don't show up. You can say just about anything you want, and nobody cares.
"The ease of permanent minority status is now left behind for a new area of partnership with the Democratic majority. The ease of permanent minority status is over because we are no longer a minority: We share power," said Mr. Ehrlich, the state's first Republican governor in 36 years.
David Jones, a Republican Central Committee member from Carroll County, said the state's entrenched Democratic leaders and an electorate lulled by years of Democratic rule must start taking the Republican Party seriously.
"We are not just the underdog willing to take the scraps anymore," Mr. Jones said. "Let us get our ideas out there."
He said Mr. Ehrlich has unified the party and attracted crossover votes with a fairly conservative message but that it would be up to the party to expand its base if the 2002 election is to be the start of a Republican revolution in Maryland.
Sharon Constantine, member of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, said the momentum from Mr. Ehrlich's campaign has lasting power.
"Do we have a lot of work to do? Yes," she said. "But with the enthusiasm after the Ehrlich victory, we have people coming forward to help."
She said she has gotten an unprecedented number of letters and phone calls every day from people who want to get involved in the Maryland Republican Party.
"It is almost like a wildfire," said Steven Dirlik, a newly elected member of the Montgomery County Central Committee.
Mr. Dirlik said that even the liberal stronghold of Montgomery County is "ripe for a takeover." He pointed out that the populous county has more Republicans than any other county and said many long-dormant conservatives were bolstered by Mr. Ehrlich's victory.
Mr. Dirlik said the party is just beginning to tap a well of conservative outrage over the "rampant liberalism" in places like Montgomery County, where gun shows are prohibited and officials in Kensington banned Santa Clause from the town Christmas parade last year.
"The state is strong Republican," he said. The party "infrastructure hasn't caught up."

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