- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

Gubernatorial nominee Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday at one of his frequent campaign stops in Prince George's County that he expects to win more black votes than any other Republican in Maryland political history.
"We believe that our African-American number will be higher than any other Republican has ever garnered in the state," said Mr. Ehrlich, who made connecting with black voters essential to his bid to become the state's first Republican governor in 34 years.
Republican strategists acknowledge Mr. Ehrlich's efforts but say the traditionally Democratic black communities of Prince George's County and Baltimore will likely continue to back Democratic nominee Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on Tuesday.
Mr. Ehrlich acknowledged he is fighting an uphill battle, but said it is one he can win.
"You don't change attitudes in one election cycle," he said. "What you do is begin to show people, once you win an election and hold power, that you follow through on what you said in the course of a campaign. You gain credibility."
Mr. Ehrlich and running mate Michael S. Steele spent the afternoon in Capitol Heights. They visited a faith-based outreach center and a retirement home, where they were joined by Secretary of Housing Mel Martinez.
The frequent visits to Prince George's County and Mr. Ehrlich's message of economic empowerment appeared to be working.
Frederick D. Gray, 77, of Capitol Heights drove a 1947 green Chevy van plastered with Ehrlich stickers to two of Mr. Ehrlich's campaign stops. Fastened to the top of the van was a sign that read, "God bless Ehrlich-Steele."
"I think [Mr. Ehrlich] can straighten out what's wrong in the state," said Mr. Gray, a former policeman and Army veteran who fought in Iwo Jima. "He will listen to your concerns. A lot of African-Americans like him."
Mr. Ehrlich has said that choosing Mr. Steele, a black man from Prince George's County, was not part of his strategy to court black voters because black Republican candidates rarely attract black voters.
Mr. Steele, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, told supports yesterday the Ehrlich ticket would give blacks opportunities unavailable during Gov. Parris N. Glendening's eight-year administration. He said those opportunities would also be unavailable if Mrs. Townsend wins.
"For the first time, African-Americans have a seat at the table," Mr. Steele said. "We'll talk about economic development issues. We'll talk about bringing the resources to this county that they need."
Mr. Ehrlich and Mr. Steele acknowledged that Republican mistakes have forced blacks to vote for Democratic candidates.
"They've given blind loyalty, and for good reason," Mr. Steele said. "We've never really presented them with an alternative. This year we have. For the first time they're looking and seeing the opportunity that we're talking about."
At the Mission of Love Warehouse, where Mr. Ehrlich, his wife, and Mr. Steele met with workers, the reception was warm, but not everyone was convinced.
James Lomax, 36, from Fairmont Heights who drives a truck for the warehouse, enjoyed Mr. Ehrlich's visit but still plans to vote for Mrs. Townsend.
"I'm a Democrat," he said. "I don't know too much about him."
Dwayne Bell, another warehouse driver, is also a Democrat but is still voting for Mr. Ehrlich.
He said Mr. Ehrlich "seems like he's trying to make everything right in Maryland."


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