- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

BALTIMORE Public cynicism about government has many candidates playing down their political connections, but Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is taking the opposite approach in his race for Maryland governor.

The Republican cites his political experience in Washington and Annapolis as one reason Marylanders should vote for him in November.

In an interview yesterday with the Associated Press, Mr. Ehrlich said he can use his ties to Congress and to President Bush to make sure Maryland receives the maximum amount of federal aid.

Because he served in Maryland's House of Delegates from 1987 through 1994, Mr. Ehrlich said, he could work more closely with Democratic leaders in Annapolis than could his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has never served in the chamber.

As a Republican depending on Democratic crossover votes to win the governor's office for his party for the first time since 1966, Mr. Ehrlich has made much of his friendships with Democratic officials and his ability to work with them.

"I would have better relations with the Maryland legislature than Kathleen Townsend would, because I'm part of the club," Mr. Ehrlich said.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat, does not share Mr. Ehrlich's view.

"I think probably what Bobby's trying to say is he was a member [of the House] and made friends while he was here, which he did," Mr. Taylor said. "But I need not remind anybody that our legislature is solidly, predominantly Democrat by anybody's standards and will stay that way.

"With the relationship that Kathleen has developed with the legislature, there's no question that she would have a very close working relationship as governor," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Ehrlich said his close ties with U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, and with the White House would help him secure maximum federal aid for purposes such as fighting crime and drug abuse.

He said Mr. Bush will help him with his campaign and that he hopes first lady Laura Bush will come to Maryland to campaign for him along with his wife, Kendall.

Mike Morrill, Mrs. Townsend's campaign spokesman, said if Mr. Ehrlich wants to help Maryland get more federal aid, he should stay in Washington.

"Congressmen are in a better position to do that than governors are," Mr. Morrill said. "That's where he could really make a difference."

Mrs. Townsend has a great relationship with Mr. Bush, who "has praised her education accomplishments," Mr. Morrill said.

While Mr. Ehrlich promotes his close ties to Republican leaders, he said it is his ability to reach out to Democrats and to groups that typically support Democrats that will be his key to victory in November.

He said he will receive some labor union support, beginning with an endorsement today from the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police.

"This race is about crossover Democrats. We've demonstrated a strong appeal to crossover Democrats," Mr. Ehrlich said.

He already has received the endorsement of one Democrat, state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III of Baltimore. He said he will gain support of former Democratic elected officials and maybe some current Democratic lawmakers.

Mr. Ehrlich said two key factors of his decision to run for governor instead of seeking re-election to Congress were encouragement from Democrats and the prospect of financial support from business leaders who usually supported Democrats.

When he was soliciting opinions last year on what he should do, "generally the Republicans said don't run. Democrats said run," Mr. Ehrlich said.

Republicans were so conditioned to failure in Maryland that they were reluctant to have him give up his seat in Congress, but Democrats not happy with the choices in their party encouraged him to run, he said.

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