A Tale of Two Millers: Democrat Finds Challenger

Republican Ron Miller dropped his congressional campaign and is challenging State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
Republican Ron Miller dropped his congressional campaign and is challenging State Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

Until the end, it appeared as if Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), the longest-serving president of the Maryland Senate, would enter his campaign for an eighth term unopposed.

But a few days before the filing deadline, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R), who has crossed swords with Miller time and again in Annapolis, persuaded a Republican who served in the Bush administration, is a veteran of the Air Force and, it so happens, shares Miller's surname to drop his bid for Congress and challenge Miller in his Calvert and Prince George's district.

State Republicans are giddy about the prospect of ousting Mike Miller and have pledged to funnel resources to the campaign of Ron Miller, who for months had been running against U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the House minority whip who represents parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel and all of Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. Ron Miller dropped out of that race and announced his bid for state Senate last week.

Ron Miller's entry forces Mike Miller to spend campaign funds at home for his own reelection, resources the Senate's top Democrat otherwise would have been able to give to other candidates across Maryland.

"I don't know how much Bob Ehrlich is going to put into Ron Miller's campaign, but whatever he does, we'll have to match him dollar for dollar," Mike Miller said.

With neither candidate facing opposition in his party's primary, the campaign rhetoric already has reached a feverish pitch. Ron Miller and Republican leaders are framing this election as a referendum on Mike Miller's leadership in the Senate, arguing that he has placed more importance on partisan politics in Annapolis than on the kitchen-table issues that are important to his constituents at home.

"He's made a laughingstock of the General Assembly," Ron Miller said. "I think that the people of Maryland aren't looking for folks to go up there and play power games. They're looking for people to go up there and do their business."

Audra Miller, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Republican Party who is unrelated to either candidate, said: "This race is obviously a race based on Mike Miller and his complete abandonment of the people of his district in favor of his own power and personal enrichment. Mike Miller has become punch-drunk with power, and the people of the district have long been forgotten."

Mike Miller rejected claims that he has ignored constituents, saying that his record over three decades in the Senate speaks for itself and that the influence he has amassed in the General Assembly is invaluable to his constituents.

"I believe in being totally responsive to the problems and needs of my constituency," Mike Miller said. "Honestly, I've served the area for many years. I know the people, I know the problems and needs of the people, and I hope they respond."

Ron Miller, 44, a Louisiana native who lives in the Calvert town of Huntingtown, served in the Air Force as an intelligence officer. In 2001, he came to Washington to work in the Bush administration, first as chief information officer at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and later at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the Small Business Administration. Miller left the administration in July 2004 to become an executive at an Arlington-based technology services firm, a job he said he will hold through the campaign.

Miller said he initially ran for Congress because his experience in government is at the federal level. But Maryland Republican officials convinced him that the state Senate race against Mike Miller was more winnable.

He said Ehrlich called him in the last week of June asking him to challenge Mike Miller and promising to back his campaign.

"I could run a noble race against an entrenched incumbent congressman, and if I lost that race my impact would be minimal. Or I could do a winnable race where the potential for a positive impact for the people of Maryland was very high," Ron Miller said.

Democratic officials called Ron Miller opportunistic, saying he abandoned a race against Hoyer that clearly would have been uphill.

Derek Walker, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, said Ron Miller is running as Ehrlich's "scapegoat" to "plug some of the many holes that they have on the ticket."

"Ehrlich and his cronies are desperate to kind of get back at the leaders in the legislature that have been fighting back against Ehrlich and his special-interest agenda," Walker said.

Mike Miller said he believes Republicans recruited Ron Miller to run in part because they have the same last name. On the November ballot, Ron Miller's name will appear first, and Mike Miller said as many as 10 percent of voters could confuse the two Millers.

"Persons who are not diligent just go down the line and see Miller and think they're voting for the incumbent," Mike Miller said. "It's going to be a factor."

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