- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 26, 2002

ARBUTUS, Md. U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced yesterday he will leave Congress for a chance to become the first Republican governor in Democrat-dominated Maryland in more than three decades.
"Some people would have you believe we're the underdog," said Mr. Ehrlich, 44, speaking from the front stoop of a Baltimore County row house that was his boyhood home and has been a backdrop in each of his other political campaign announcements.
"I'm all about competition," continued the former Princeton University football team captain, reminding the crowd of about 150 gathered outside the string of look-alike, brick row houses on Dolores Avenue that he was also the underdog when he first ran for the state legislature and for the House of Representatives.
"We will not back down from any debate. … We will not give up one vote," Mr. Ehrlich said.
His campaign will be about change and leadership, Mr. Ehrlich said before criticizing Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for creating a more than $1 billion structural deficit in the state budget and underfunding services for the poor and most vulnerable Marylanders.
"The arrogant monopoly has got to go they think they can do anything because it's costless," Mr. Ehrlich said.
As a Republican in a Democratic-leaning district, he has always had to work to sell his message.
But as a gubernatorial candidate in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, he will have to work hard and buy plenty of television time to match Mrs. Townsend's name recognition.
Mrs. Townsend's aides say she has raised about $6 million for the race. Mr. Ehrlich said yesterday his total is closer to $2 million, but was expected to get a big boost at an event in Baltimore last night.
Republicans who for at least two years have begged the centrist congressman to run for governor were buoyed yesterday, despite the struggles ahead.
"He's going to lift all our boats [with] a strong top of the ticket," said state Sen. Jean Roesser, Montgomery County Republican.
Mr. Ehrlich promised a campaign of contrasts if he entered the race, but on its first day he and Mrs. Townsend who hasn't officially announced her candidacy were both in Montgomery County and on common political ground.
Mrs. Townsend split with Mr. Glendening and pledged her support for the Intercounty Connector (ICC), a road that would link interstates 270 and 95 that has been heavily debated since it was first planned in the 1960s.
Mrs. Townsend told the audience at a Montgomery County business leaders' breakfast yesterday that she believes the road can be built in an environmentally responsible way something Mr. Glendening, once a vocal supporter, disputed when he turned his back on it in 1998.
Environmental groups and residents of neighborhoods it would cut through have been locked in bitter debate over the road, which many commuters and businesses organizations say must be built to alleviate severe traffic congestion.
A longtime supporter of the ICC, Mr. Ehrlich cautioned an audience in Bethesda not to trust the about-face on the issue. "They have absolutely no credibility at all when it comes to this road," he said.
But for one Montgomery County resident and political activist, Mrs. Townsend's backing was pivotal.
"We've already won the most important election of 2002," said Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Richard Parsons, a strong ICC proponent and former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, representatives of abortion-rights and gun-control groups worked the crowds at Mr. Ehrlich's appearances, arguing that his votes showed little support for their causes.
His response: "Most people don't belong to pro-life or [pro-choice groups], and neither do I."


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