- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Republican candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. lost at least one Democrat he courted as a running mate in his bid for Maryland governor.

State schools Superintendent Nancy L. Grasmick yesterday told Mr. Ehrlich she would not leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican a move required to make her eligible to run for lieutenant governor on his ticket in the election this fall.

"I appreciate the respect that Congressman Ehrlich has afforded me in placing my name on a list of potential candidates," Mrs. Grasmick said in a written statement released by her office at the state Board of Education.

"Our working relationship has always been excellent. At this point, however, I am honored to serve the state in my current capacity," where, she said, she is "already in the best possible position to make a difference for all children."

Mrs. Grasmick's decision left one Democrat and two Republicans on the short list for Mr. Ehrlich, front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Mr. Ehrlich, a centrist, has insisted he can overcome the Democratic Party's 2-1 advantage among registered voters in Maryland and become the state's first Republican governor since Spiro Agnew by attracting like-minded centrists and disgruntled Democrats.

But yesterday's 9 p.m. deadline for switching parties in Maryland meant that, unless a "mystery" potential Democratic running mate became a Republican overnight, Mr. Ehrlich would miss a chance to make his point by recruiting a high-profile ticket mate from the opposition party.

Gubernatorial candidates must select running mates during the next two weeks to meet the July 1 filing deadline.

Still, Republicans claimed the overture would help him with Democrats, regardless of the outcome.

"It showed Ehrlich's ability to think unconventionally, and that serves the party and the state's interests well," said Paul Ellington, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson said he doubted Mrs. Grasmick would have netted Mr. Ehrlich many votes. Mr. Paulson said the attempt to woo Mrs. Grasmick shows the Republican Party is in trouble and out of step with voters.

"You mean he can't find another single Republican that will help his ticket?" Mr. Paulson asked.

Although her flirtation with becoming Mr. Ehrlich's running mate suggested that Mrs. Grasmick would endorse him, her response to that question, through a spokesman, indicated she was likely to step away from the contest.

"She has never before endorsed a candidate and, as superintendent, she needs to stay a step removed," said education board spokesman John Rosson.

Still, Ehrlich campaign spokesman Paul S. Schurick said discussions between the Republican congressman and Mrs. Grasmick "have been nothing but positive."

Mr. Schurick said he did not know whether Mrs. Grasmick would endorse Mr. Ehrlich, but "based on conversations," he would be "dumbfounded" if she endorsed the Democratic front-runner, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

At least one woman remained among the three potential running mates for Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Schurick said. But he declined to say how many men or women remained in the running or whether a Democratic woman was among them.

The list had been shortened to three, but a second Republican was added over the weekend, Mr. Schurick said.

Both Mrs. Townsend and Mr. Ehrlich are courting the endorsement of Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. The Democrat was mayor of Baltimore and served two terms as governor before returning to politics in 1998.

Key Schaefer associates, including Gene M. Raynor and Baltimore businessman John Paterakis, encouraged Mrs. Grasmick, a close friend of Mr. Schaefer's, to consider running with Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Schurick said.

Mr. Ehrlich's public courtship of an official close to the Democratic administration recalls the defection of James Brady in 1998. The secretary of business and economic development resigned from the Glendening-Townsend administration, denounced their policy toward businesses and endorsed Republican gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

Mr. Brady is rumored to be among potential running mates for Mr. Ehrlich.

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