- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

It doesn’t get much more American than football and politics this time of year.

And in Maryland, the re-election campaign for Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is combining the two in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

“Along with your generous contribution of $500 or more, we will be happy to send you a regulation-sized NFL football,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, says in campaign mailer to supporters.

The appeal raised eyebrows at the Maryland Democratic Party.

“It’s interesting,” party spokesman David Paulson said. “I wonder if it is legal.”

He also said the gift offer made it look like Mr. Ehrlich was having trouble raising money.

Mr. Ehrlich had a war chest of about $8.3 million, while Democratic candidate Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley had $3.8 million, according to the Sept. 1 campaign-finance reports.

Ehrlich campaign spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver said they made sure the gift complied with state law before offering it to thousands of voters.

She also said the football offer was true to Mr. Ehrlich’s style.

“It is no secret that the governor is an athlete, and not only a fan, but a former football player,” Miss DeLeaver said. “A football is an appropriate thank you for continued support.”

Football has been central to Mr. Ehrlich’s rise from a working-class Arbutus neighborhood to Government House, the governor’s official residence in Annapolis.

He received football scholarships to attend Gilman School, a private boys school in Baltimore, and Princeton University.

His earliest election victories included being voted captain of the Gilman football team and co-captain of the Princeton team.

Miss DeLeaver said the football gift is an example of the type of innovation that has made Mr. Ehrlich a successful governor.

“The Ehrlich campaign is a proponent of using innovative strategies to not only keep the support we have, but garner additional support,” she said.

Mr. Paulson took a much dimmer view. “If people really believed in Bob Ehrlich and what he has done, he wouldn’t have to entice supporters with a football,” he said.

Energy boost

Often criticized for a lack of charisma on the campaign trail, Democratic Senate candidate James H. Webb Jr. last week sought a boost of energy from the party’s rock star, Sen. Barack Obama.

The Illinois Democrat touted Mr. Webb’s leadership on foreign policy, including his early criticism of the Iraq war.

“The question is, are we able to recognize that leadership when it is presented to us?” Mr. Obama asked about 500 gathered Wednesday for a rally at Alexandria’s Market Square. “In Virginia, we are seeing the emergence of someone we can all be proud of,”

Mr. Obama, a favorite of the party faithful ever since his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, declined to offer any direct criticism of Mr. Webb’s Republican opponent, Sen. George Allen.

“I try not to talk about my colleagues, but to talk about the quality of the candidates,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “Jim Webb is a man of authenticity, a man who is comfortable in his own skin, a man of sincerity. The voters in Virginia can make up their own mind about George Allen.”

Mr. Webb, a former Navy secretary under President Reagan and an academic who has written fiction and nonfiction books, accused Mr. Allen and President Bush of catering to corporate interests “while your job goes overseas and your kid goes to Iraq.”

Mr. Webb’s son, a Marine, was recently deployed to Iraq.

Mr. Allen’s campaign spokesman, Dick Wadhams, said Mr. Obama’s appearance is evidence of Mr. Webb’s alignment with the Democrats’ liberal wing.

“We assume Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Chuck Schumer will also be campaigning for [Mr.] Webb. They’re all liberal Democrats,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Strong support

Two Jewish Republicans, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman and Virginia Rep. Eric I. Cantor, came to the defense of Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, who confirmed last week that he has some Jewish ancestry.

Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cantor accused the campaign of Mr. Allen’s Democratic challenger, James H. Webb Jr., of pushing the story of Mr. Allen’s Jewish roots — a charge the Webb campaign says is false.

The two Jewish lawmakers issued statements through Mr. Allen’s campaign Wednesday night.

“I was offended that the religion card was being played here,” Mr. Coleman said in a conference call with reporters the next day.

Asked what evidence he had that Mr. Webb was behind it, Mr. Coleman said that bloggers who are “shills” for the Webb campaign have been pushing the issue.

Mr. Cantor said that “Jim Webb’s campaign operatives, on his behalf, have been pushing a story that George Allen has Jewish relatives. In some perverse way, Jim Webb believes that this will cost Sen. Allen votes. Jim Webb is dead wrong.”

On Tuesday, a day after angrily responding to a question about his Jewish heritage, Mr. Allen confirmed that he had Jewish ancestors.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Mr. Allen’s mother, Henriette “Etty” Allen, hid her Jewish upbringing from her children until late last month. She told the newspaper she had done so to spare them the fear suffered by her father, who had been imprisoned by the Nazis in German-occupied Tunisia during World War II.

Webb campaign spokeswoman Kristian Denny Todd said the campaign had nothing to do with questions about Mr. Allen’s heritage.

“We happen to think that there’s nothing wrong with his heritage,” she said.

“The Allen campaign has chosen to engage in a slash-and-burn political campaign,” Mrs. Denny Todd added. “We find it troubling that other lawmakers, who have absolutely no reason to weigh in on this race, choose to participate in this kind of campaign style.”

Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said the Webb campaign has an “anti-Semitic overtone to it.” He cited a blog by Lowell Feld, raisingkaine.com, that has addressed Mr. Allen’s Jewish heritage. Mr. Wadhams also referred to a Webb flier during the Democratic primary that depicted his opponent, Harris Miller, with a large nose and cash spilling from his pockets. Mr. Miller is Jewish.

“There is a common thread between what he did against Harris Miller, and what they were doing with the blogs,” Mr. Wadhams said.

Responded Mrs. Denny Todd: “Their charges that we’re trying to run an anti-Semitic campaign are completely false.”

Mr. Feld on his blog Thursday dismissed the “nonsense and nastiness” coming from the Allen campaign on the issue. He also noted that he is one of eight Jewish staffers for the Webb campaign.

Mr. Coleman, meanwhile, said he called Mr. Allen to say, “Welcome to the tribe.”

“There are only two Republican Jewish senators, so if he’s a half-Jew, or even a quarter, it’s a significant increase in our presence in the Senate,” Mr. Coleman joked. The other Jewish Republican senator is Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Coleman said he could identify with the fear that Mr. Allen’s mother had, noting that his own family name was originally Goldman.

“And part of the change, going back generations, was the fear of anti-Semitism and the impact it would have on employment,” he said. “So you have a lot of Jews who have kind of Americanized their names. So whatever choice his mom made, I’m not going to second-guess that.”

Irreplaceable

The official spokeswoman for the city of Frederick, Md., has resigned, and she may not be replaced.

Public Information Officer Nancy Poss’ resignation on Sept. 6 while she was on maternity leave made her the latest official to leave City Hall as a result of changes and cost cuts made by Mayor Jeff Holtzinger, a Republican, since his election in November.

“It was in the best interests of the city and myself” to resign, Mrs. Poss told the Frederick News-Post last Monday. The job, she said, “was so drastically different.”

Mr. Holtzinger runs a quieter ship than his predecessor, Jennifer Dougherty, a Democrat. Weekly press conferences, a staple of the previous administration, have disappeared. Mr. Holtzinger had called his predecessor’s briefings “a little like propaganda.”

Mr. Holtzinger said his administration is evaluating the need for replacing Mrs. Poss. He said residents and reporters can get information from the city without having to go through a public information officer.

You rang?

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who made his millions in the telecommunications industry, showed high school students in New Hampshire last week how to use their cell phones to register to vote.

Mr. Warner, a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, was a co-founder of the company that became Nextel. He is kicking off a national voter-registration drive that uses cell-phone technology.

Mr. Warner showed students in Concord how to use text messages to contact a nonprofit group called Mobile Voter, which will send out a copy of a state’s voter-registration form when provided with an e-mail address.

Mr. Warner said he is the first political leader to promote the technology to register voters.

S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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