'Merry Christmas' to 40,000 Of Ehrlich's Closest Friends

By Nancy Trejos and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Across Maryland, Republicans and probably a few Democrats are opening their mailboxes this month to find the smiling faces of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and his family.

That's because Ehrlich (R) sent out 40,000 holiday cards this year, more than any other governor in the country, according to a nationwide survey conducted by Stateline.org, a Web site that chronicles trends in state politics.

The next closest, at 27,500, was Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D).

"What can I say?" Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said yesterday when asked about the prolific Christmas card mailing. "The governor has a lot of friends and supporters, which will become more evident in the coming year."

Ehrlich's mailing, which comes as he prepares for next year's reelection bid, is remarkable not just for its reach. He is one of just nine governors whose card includes the words "Merry Christmas" -- in Ehrlich's case, it is part of the inside greeting -- a sentiment not even President Bush conveyed.

These days, crafting a holiday card message can be as politically perilous as setting public policy. Bush's failure to mention Christmas in his cards had religious conservatives decrying what they called another example of extreme political correctness, much like calling the tree on the Capitol lawn a holiday spruce rather than a Christmas tree.

Although area public officials say they have not experienced a similar backlash, they are treading carefully. Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) stayed holiday-neutral, mailing roughly 10,000 "season's greetings." His cards, like Ehrlich's, proclaim that the greetings do not come at taxpayer expense. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) sent out about 10,000 cards with no reference to Christmas.

"If you are in politics, there is a diverse group of people who you serve, and a lot are not Christians, so you try to send out one that is sensitive to everybody," said Prince George's County Council Member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who chose "Peace on Earth" and "Happy Holidays."

Some national groups are urging local leaders to honor Christmas as a religious holiday. The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for example, sent a booklet to county administrators nationwide encouraging them to erect Nativity scenes in public places.

The Mississippi-based American Family Association has urged politicians, retailers and others nationwide not to use the word "holiday" in place of Christmas.

"I think people are too hypersensitive when they don't have to be," said Tim Wildmon, the group's president. "I don't think anyone is going to be offended when they get Christmas cards, especially from a public official who happens to be a Christian."

Wildmon would be proud of Ehrlich, who not only specified Christmas but also appears on the card with his wife, Kendel, and their two young sons in front of the family Christmas tree.

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