Republican Ehrlich Highlights Ties to Democratic Pr. George's Executive

By Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff writer
Saturday, August 12, 2006

After getting trounced in the Washington suburbs in 2002, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday that he is well positioned to gain ground there in his reelection bid in part because of his warm relationship with Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson.

Four years ago, "I didn't like him. He didn't like me," the Republican said of Johnson (D) at a lunch meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters at the governor's mansion in Annapolis. Since then, the bipartisan relationship has blossomed into something "really terrific."

In the past month, the two have played golf and worked to woo the NAACP to consider moving its headquarters from Baltimore to the Prince George's National Harbor development.

Ehrlich said he does not expect the executive to endorse him in a general election match with Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D). But he suggested that Johnson has been helpful in more subtle ways, such as his public praise of the governor for buoying the troubled Prince George's Hospital Center.

He drew a parallel between Johnson and former governor William Donald Schaefer, a Democrat with a soft spot for Ehrlich.

"He's made pronouncements, kind of similar to Schaefer really, that 'I support the Democratic ticket, but if you're asking me about this administration, this is what they've done,' " the governor said.

Johnson's campaign was less effusive about the relationship that Ehrlich described. State Democratic Party officials called the governor's election projections "wishful thinking."

"They've got a pretty good working relationship because that's what you have to do when you're in office," said Johnson's campaign manager, Eileen Thomas. When it comes time to campaign, she said, "he's going to go with the ticket. He is not Schaefer."

O'Malley and his running mate, Prince George's Del. Anthony G. Brown, attended the start of Johnson's reelection campaign last month, and Johnson endorsed O'Malley there.

Derek Walker, executive director of the state Democratic Party, said Johnson "knows how to bridge the partisan divide to get things done for Prince George's County, but that doesn't mean that he isn't going to be working overtime to make sure that Martin O'Malley is elected this November."

In 2002, Ehrlich lost in Prince George's to Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by 105,000 votes. In the majority black county, Ehrlich drew fewer votes than did Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in 1994 and 1998 even though his running mate was Michael S. Steele, a black resident of Prince George's.

This year, Ehrlich said, his efforts to promote development at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill and Konterra in Laurel, both large mixed-use projects, would play well in the county. He also said he opened the county's first state office of economic development.

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