- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — Hoping to capitalize on their historic gubernatorial win, Maryland Republican leaders are beginning an effort to overcome decades of minority status.

State and county party leaders gathered Saturday in Cumberland for their spring convention. It was the first appearance by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele at a convention since their inauguration in January.

The leaders said they are working to register voters, field candidates, and disseminate “talking points” to county central committees so that Republicans statewide can articulate the same message as Mr. Ehrlich.

Addressing a ballroom of 300 party faithful, Mr. Ehrlich said the state’s Republicans are at a crossroads. His young administration enjoys “currency” among voters, he said, but could lose it at any time.

“If we do the right things for the right reasons, that currency will be translated into a permanent political opportunity,” he said. “If we blow it, it will be another 40 years before it comes around again.”

The leaders had last gathered in December, just weeks after Mr. Ehrlich was elected the state’s first Republican governor in more than three decades.

“I see a much higher level of confidence in the group and a recognition of the work that can be done,” said Stephen Abrams, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party. “This isn’t just rah-rah. This is learning how to implement the grass roots.”

State Republican Party Chairman John Kane said he is organizing two fund-raising committees to coordinate the campaigns of Republican state legislative candidates in targeted races. Democrats have used that technique for years.

Mr. Kane said he wants to raise $1.25 million to fight for six Senate seats held by Democrats that Republicans consider winnable, and at least $800,000 for 13 House races.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland 2-to-1; Democrats also have a 98-43 advantage in the House of Delegates and control 34 of 47 Senate seats.

Richard Hug, chief fund-raiser for Mr. Ehrlich, said Maryland won’t be a true two-party state “until we have a 50-50 balance in the legislature, and we can do it in 2006.”

Mr. Ehrlich said the next election cycle would be a success if Republicans pick up six to 10 delegate seats.

He also said he isn’t sure whether President Bush would carry Maryland next year.

But he agreed with Mr. Kane’s strategy of coordinating the message of county party leaders so that Republicans adhere to the same message statewide.

“It’s all new, and we control the levers, so let’s do it,” he said.

Political consultant and trainer Mark Montini, chief executive of Campaign Secrets, led a seminar Saturday on how county leaders should organize and train volunteers, and identify issues to elect Republican candidates.

“I affectionately call it ‘hunting donkeys,’” he said. “There are only two reasons why anybody votes Republican. They like Republicans, or they hate Democrats.”

Mr. Steele also took a step toward announcing his own gubernatorial aspiration, which he said he’d keep in check until after Mr. Ehrlich completes a second term.

“I’d like to have a job in 2010,” said Mr. Steele, a lawyer and former state party chairman, speaking of the need to build the organization. “Just so we’re clear, I don’t mean moving back to private practice.”

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