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Ehrlich kicks off bid for governor with small business pledge

Washington Post Editors

Former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. kicked off his campaign "to recapture the State House" on Wednesday morning with promises to cut the sales tax, expand the number of charter schools and make the state more friendly to small businesses.

"Welcome to history, part two," Ehrlich told a crowd of close to 200 gathered at Rockville Town Center for the official announcement of his rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley, the Democrat who in 2006 ended Ehrlich's tenure as Maryland's first Republican governor in a generation.

Ehrlich said he thinks he is "uniquely placed" to return to Annapolis to confront what he described as a culture of "unending excuses" and "petty politics that stand in the way of progress."

Ehrlich pledged to work to roll back a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax that the Democrat-led legislature passed in 2007 with O'Malley's support. He promised to double the number of charter schools in Maryland, which have grown to 42 since he wrote the state's first law allowing their creation in 2003.

And Ehrlich pledged that small businesses would again have a friend in the State House, after four years of what he described as stifling policy choices by O'Malley and lawmakers.

"This is your day," Ehrlich told the small-business owners in the audience. "You are re-empowered in the state of Maryland."

Ehrlich's decision to announce in Rockville underscored a recognition that he will have to improve significantly upon his 2006 performance in the vote-rich and heavily Democratic Washington region to beat O'Malley. Ehrlich is expected to target the more than 110,000 independent voters in Montgomery County, and his advisers have said they think he can win over more of the region's white males, Ehrlich's strongest demographic group statewide in 2006.

A larger rally is planned for Wednesday night in Ehrlich's boyhood home of Arbutus, in Baltimore County. O'Malley is planning to address reporters at noon in Annapolis.

The first skirmish of the race - which again matches two of the state's dominant political personalities - came on the eve of Ehrlich's announcement, with O'Malley challenging Ehrlich to a radio debate on Saturday morning. Ehrlich countered Tuesday night with an offer to have O'Malley appear Saturday on the weekly radio show he co-hosts with his wife. Neither scenario is likely to materialize.

In the 2010 contest, Ehrlich - who has spent 20 of the past 24 years in elected office - will try to take advantage of what he has called "an anti-incumbent, anti-spending" sentiment among voters.

His entry into the race is a testament to how much the national mood has shifted in favor of Republicans since President Obama's election in 2008. Ehrlich said last week that he concluded back then that he was unlikely to ever win another statewide race in heavily Democratic Maryland but that he has since become emboldened by Republican victories in other states.

Still, Maryland remains a difficult state for Republicans, who are outnumbered more than 2 to 1 by registered Democrats.

Most public polls have shown Ehrlich no closer to O'Malley than in 2006, when he beat Ehrlich by 6.5 percentage points.

The 2006 race was highly negative and at times intensely personal, with Ehrlich repeatedly calling O'Malley "a whiner" and running ads that highlighted the homicide rate and struggling schools in Baltimore, where O'Malley was mayor.

O'Malley accused Ehrlich of dirty tricks and portrayed him as cozy with energy lobbyists and an unpopular President George W. Bush.

Both candidates are likely to make the economy the central focus of the 2010 campaign. O'Malley has argued that Maryland will emerge from the recession stronger than most states because of his financial stewardship.

Ehrlich, who had telegraphed a run for weeks with travels around the state, is among the last serious candidates in the country to declare his intentions for a statewide race on the ballot this fall. His advisers believe his near-universal name recognition and proven fundraising ability will enable him to mount a serious challenge in the seven months until Election Day.

Ehrlich starts the race far behind O'Malley in fundraising. In January, the governor reported $5.7 million in the bank, while Ehrlich reported $151,529 in a campaign account that he has kept open since 2006.

Maryland Democrats have been gearing up for an O'Malley-Ehrlich contest for months. The state party has released several Web ads that portray the former governor as a big spender who is friendly with special interests.

On Tuesday, the state and national Democratic parties urged reporters to press Ehrlich about his level of confidence in Michael S. Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele rose to prominence in national politics after Ehrlich put him on his ticket in 2002 for lieutenant governor.

Since his 2006 loss, Ehrlich, who took no questions from reporters after his Rockville announcement, has worked to maintain visibility with a weekly radio talk show on Baltimore's WBAL (1090 AM). He also opened and has led a Baltimore office for the North Carolina-based law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, where several former administration aides hold jobs.

Ehrlich's tenure in Annapolis was marked by frequent clashes with the Democratic-dominated General Assembly. His efforts to legalize slot-machine gambling were repeatedly thwarted, and several high-profile initiatives were enacted after the legislature overrode his vetoes.

Ehrlich counts among his accomplishments the acceleration of plans for the Intercounty Connector and a major initiative to upgrade the state's wastewater-treatment plants.

-- John Wagner

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 7, 2010; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  2010 Elections , Governor , John Wagner , Republican Party  
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Comments

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. needs to show he can balance the state budget when state revenues are falling. His promise to pull back the sales tax would require that he cuts back other programs and expenses OR he raises taxes and fees elsewhere. So what is it going to be? The Post should require Ehrlich answer some of the hard questions before giving him early press - which he clearly does not deserve at this time.

Posted by: Walter_Lee | April 7, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

ehrYich has a lot of explaining to do. I was born and raised in Maryland and didn't have problems with my voter registration until he was governor. And then there's his erroneous Democratic Party affiliation on voter guides in Prince George's County on election day...politically-motivated firing of state workers...

Please, the only way he'll get into the Maryland governor's office again is if he's in a tour group.

Posted by: CeeCee91460 | April 7, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

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