- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

NEW YORK — Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday told his state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention that Democrats are racist for assuming that blacks should belong only to their party.

“I saw a message coming out of the Democratic convention, that if you happen to have black skin, you have to believe one way. You have to, or you are a traitor to your race,” he said during an address to the delegation at the Park Central Hotel.

“That’s racist,” he said.

Mr. Ehrlich, elected in 2002 to become the state’s first Republican governor in three decades, has been touting Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele as a “rock star.” He said that the Democratic attitude toward race opens a window for Republicans to show the diversity of the party.

“It’s a mind-set that does not invite diversity,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “That’s why it’s so important that this lieutenant governor speak to this country.”

Mr. Steele, one of the highest-ranking black Republicans in the country, will deliver a prime-time speech here tonight and talk about the message that the Republican Party has for minorities.

Mr. Steele also sought to energize the Maryland delegation yesterday and to let them know that they are now players on the national stage.

“The buzz is the Maryland delegation,” Mr. Steele told the delegates. “People are fascinated by what Gov. Ehrlich and I have been able to do in Maryland.”

Mr. Ehrlich agreed, saying that the state is now “relevant.”

“We’re not only relevant; we’re somewhat dangerous. We need to organize and work smart. The stakes are incredibly high,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

National Committeeman Louis Pope said that the delegation has better seats than in past years, when the delegates were in the so-called “nosebleed” section because of the state’s Democratic voting record.

But Mr. Steele pointed out that former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush won in Maryland. He told the delegation that it must focus on grass-roots efforts to re-elect President Bush, since the president won’t be spending much money on advertising in Maryland, where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1.

“The grass-roots operation is alive and well. We’re going to kick it up a notch and work very hard,” Mr. Steele said.

“We’ve got a good, fighting chance, and, as Republicans, that’s all we ever ask for,” he said. “[We need] your leadership in the communities and talking to your neighbors and getting them fired up about the process. … You are the bread and butter, the heart and soul of our party.”

At one point during the breakfast, a black delegate from Capitol Heights stood and criticized Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

“We veterans are mad as hell,” said Frederick Douglass Gray, 78. “You will be hearing from me and many others.”

The delegation gave Mr. Gray a standing ovation.

Mr. Steele told the delegates that Maryland’s slot machine debate also has sparked national interest.

“I’m getting questions from delegates from as far away as Arizona and Alaska asking ‘When are you guys getting slots?’ I’m not kidding,” Mr. Steele said. “I told him I’ve got a couple of people in Annapolis they can call on our behalf.”

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