Tea party group marches on Annapolis, Ehrlich attends
Maryland's chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots group that sponsors "taxpayer tea parties" and that gained newfound attention for its role in raucous summer town hall meetings on health care reform, marched on Annapolis Wednesday night - or at least jumped up and down to stay warm outside the State House as the temperature hovered around freezing.
""We're all here tonight because we want change. We want the politicians who work in the buildings around us to understand that government cannot solve all of our problems," David Schwartz, AFP's Maryland director, yelled from a makeshift stage erected across the street, beside the governor's mansion. "Small businesses in this state are hurting. We want them to know that profit and prosperity are not dirty words. They are what makes us great. We need to get government off our backs."
Expectations for the rally were heightened last week when former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) used his radio program to promote the event, which coincided with the opening day of the state's 2010 legislative session.
"This is your night," Ehrlich, who is contemplating a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), told his listeners Saturday on WBAL radio in Baltimore. "I want to encourage a major, major presence. I want to encourage the largest crowd ever in Annapolis, Maryland."
The event was certainly not the biggest -- one state law enforcement officer estimated the gathering at about 500 people. But Ehrlich, who arrived in a green winter coat and gloves, said the turnout made a statement - even if most members of Maryland's Democratic majority had long since left the State House.
"I've been telling everybody: don't expect your presence here tonight to change minds in there," Ehrlich said, motioning toward the State House. "You have two goals tonight, the fact that so many people showed up on a cold night ... that in and of itself says something. And I also make the point that it's a building block for November. There's only one game day here and the only day that really counts is November."
Ehrlich did not address the crowd, and partially distanced himself from the gathering. "This is not an Ehrlich rally. I'm in the bleachers back here. On the radio show, they ...
asked me to give it some press and then [my wife] Kendel and I were saying, 'well we're asking people to come out in a cold tonight, we live two minutes up the road. We better show up, too.'"
Ehrlich did, however, call the turnout and popularity of the AFP a phenomenon, and said the make up of Wednesday night's gathering likely included many potential supporters.
"This is not just a Republican deal, there a lot of Democrats, Independents, Libertarians out here," Ehrlich said. "For a Republican [in Maryland] to have any chance, you really have to have an appeal to crossover Democrats, and they're out here tonight. ... you would expect in this type of crowd, sort of given the philosophy of a lot of these folks, that I'd have some appeal to them."
It's a tough call," he said, "I'm a Republican in Maryland and in every race the odds are going to be stacked against you. That's just the fact of it, whether you like it or not. That's why I've had a process, and people have been very respectful of the process, I really have to say that and I thank them for that." (Ehrlich has previously said he's studying polling, and taking a scientific approach to deciding whether he has a fighting chance).
Campaign or no campaign, Ehrlich said he was tired of O'Malley increasingly mischaracterizing his tenure in office, including, he said, in a radio appearance the governor made on Wednesday. Ehrlich declined to offer specifics.
"I'm at home, trying to get some work done and Kendel yells down, hey, you better turn the radio on, he's on WBAL saying 'Ehrlich, Ehrlich, Ehrlich.' I don't want to get involved in this but you also want to set the record straight. We will, regardless of what we're going to do, we're not going to let him get away with that stuff. Revisionist history is no more. We're not going to put up with it, I will not put up with it."
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