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Monday, February 1, 2010:

The Agenda:

Is Ehrlich taking the plunge?

Ehrlich hand.jpgIf Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) is running for governor of Maryland again -- and signs seem to point in that direction, as we reported over the weekend -- why not go ahead and share that with the world?

There are good arguments for announcing a bid now that have no doubt been pressed upon the former governor. To begin with, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has more than $5.7 million the bank -- compared to the $141,000 or so that Ehrlich does. The legislative session offers an opportunity for Ehrlich to start making up ground while O'Malley is sidelined. By law, the governor cannot raise money again until mid-April, when the legislature adjourns. Ehrlich, as a challenger, is not bound by those restrictions.

Moreover, whatever Ehrlich's chances in the fall, Republicans nationally are clearly riding a wave of enthusiasm in the wake of Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts. Why not take advantage of that?

GOP consultant Don Murphy put it most colorfully in our piece over the weekend, arguing that Ehrlich needs to end his deliberations: "If I were in charge, I'd be banging on the men's room door," Murphy said.

Thumbnail image for Plunge.jpgThe weekend also presented some evidence as to why Ehrlich might be able to wait until March, as he seems inclined. He broadcast his weekly radio show from the site of the Polar Bear Plunge, an event attended by thousands, including O'Malley. And Ehrlich took several swings at the sitting governor, accusing him of "terrible budgeting," among other things. (Ehrlich also reminisced during the broadcast about issuing an executive order requiring then-Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) to take the plunge.)

If and when he becomes a candidate, Ehrlich will almost certainly have to give up the radio show. He will no longer largely get a free pass when he goes after O'Malley, and the media will presumably start reminding Marylanders of Ehrlich's record -- the good and bad -- and exploring what he has done during the past four years.

Because Ehrlich is already so well known, his boosters argue that he will not need to raise as much money as he would otherwise.

"It's not going to be all about the money this time," Ehrlich's chief fundraiser, Dick Hug, told us. "It's going to be about the message and the messenger."

Another factor not to be overlooked: Ehrlich, we're told, is a creature of a habit. In both 2002 and 2006, he launched his gubernatorial campaigns in March. If Ehrlich moves forward with a bid -- and there are still reasons to think he could get cold feet -- this seems as likely a date as any for an announcement: March 25, Maryland Day.

-- John Wagner

News You Should Know

Democrats aim to humiliate Republicans on budget cuts
Republican leaders in the General Assembly have blasted Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed spending plan for the coming fiscal year, saying he's "kicking the can down the road" by using transfers and budget maneuvers to cover more spending than the state can afford. Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard) and House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert) have also said Democrats are underestimating Maryland's budget gap by $1 billion in spending that's covered (at least for this year) by federal stimulus money. Yet, Democrats pointed out in a letter released Friday that Republicans have yet to release a counter offer for how to close the budget hole. They are betting in an election year that Republicans will never put in print the cuts to education or other state services that would be needed to close the gap --- or, if they do, that the list of cuts will amount to great campaign fodder come November. The Democratic budget chairs, Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) and Del. Norman H. Conway (D-Wicomico), plan to put Republicans on the spot in a hearing they have scheduled for Feb. 23. "We would like to invite your additional participation in the process by offering you the formal opportunity to present your proposals for $3 billion in reductions without the use of transfers," reads the letter from Currie and Conway. "We look forward to your input." -- Aaron C. Davis

Lawmakers hesitant on governor's unemployment insurance fix
Middleton mug.jpg"'The governor is very well-intentioned on this, and I think his ideas are good and make a lot of sense," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Democrat who heads the Senate Finance Committee. "But we don't know what's best for businesses. They do. And they really don't want this,'" writes The Sun's Julie Bykowicz. "Middleton and other lawmakers say ignoring the desires of business owners in favor of a policy they devised seems to fly in the face of the lessons they are gleaning from the current political climate. They have raised the recent Republican win in a U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts and last year's Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial contests won by Republicans as evidence that Democratic lawmakers need to pay more attention to what their constituents have to say. 'This is an election year, and to go down this road and force businesses into this position because of the heavy-handedness of the governor's office -- some of these delegates know there is a price to be paid,' said Del. Warren E. Miller, a Howard County Republican on the House Economic Matters Committee."

More fuzzy numbers releases on Maryland stimulus jobs
The White House's "Recovery.gov puts the number of jobs funded in Maryland during the last quarter of '09 at 6,759," writes The Baltimore Sun's Paul West. "That represents slightly fewer jobs for the state, on a proportional basis, than for the nation as a whole. Unfortunately, there's no way to know whether that last statement is accurate or not. For one thing, the quality of job-number reporting varies widely among the government entities and private companies that got the money. For another, the neighborhood that Maryland finds itself in makes the math even fuzzier. The federal establishment in Washington is throwing off so much stimulus money in all directions, some of the jobs attributed to Virginia and D.C. should actually be counted in Maryland, since that's where the recipients live, pay taxes and, in many cases, work. The reverse is also true. In other words, the 6,759 jobs total for Maryland may be even less useful than figures for other states."

Curry suggests April decision on challenging O'Malley
Curry-thumb-200x147.jpeg"Former Prince George's County executive Wayne K. Curry (D) indicated Friday morning that he would decide by the end of the legislative session in April whether to heed the calls of 'a lot of people who have been urging me to run for governor,'" The Post's John Wagner writes. "Appearing on "The Politics Program" on WTOP (103.5 FM) radio, Curry also ruled out switching parties. Some have speculated that Curry is contemplating running on a ticket with former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), a move that would require Curry to become a Republican.

Week Ahead

  • Monday: O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty meet to discuss better tracking of suspects across borders in the capital region. Senate committee hears dozens of gubernatorial appointments.
  • Tuesday: O'Malley delivers State of the State address; services for U.S. Sen. Charles McC. Mathias held at Washington National Cathedral; joint budget committee considers future raises for governor and lawmakers.

  • Wednesday: A House committee considers tougher restrictions against texting while driving.
  • Thursday: Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) is sentenced and steps down; Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) takes over.
  • Friday: Deadline for state senators to file bills.
  • -----

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    By Aaron C. Davis  |  February 1, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
    Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , John Wagner  
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    Next: Hogan ends bid for governor, says he is 'convinced' Ehrlich is running

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