Rolle Goes His Own Way In Race for Attorney General

Scott L. Rolle talks to students at St. Mary's College. He has called on younger voters on his page on MySpace.
Scott L. Rolle talks to students at St. Mary's College. He has called on younger voters on his page on MySpace. (Photos By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Scott L. Rolle's introduction to the class on Maryland politics began with academic blasphemy.

"You don't have to be an A student, you don't have to be on the honor roll -- I was none of those -- to be a success in life," Rolle, the Republican candidate for Maryland attorney general, told teacher Zach Messitte and his students during a visit to St. Mary's College. "In the classes I liked, I got A's. In the classes I didn't like, I got less than A's."

It was a heartfelt bit of advice from Rolle, the Frederick County state's attorney and the kind of politician who plays campaign trail hooky for a few hours each Sunday to watch football. He's a lawyer in the Army Reserve, a churchgoing Catholic who seems surprised when someone has heard of Ohio Northern University, where he went to law school. He shows up at rock concerts more often than news conferences and has a MySpace account. And his least favorite part of politics is begging other people for contributions.

"I hate that part of it," Rolle said during the visit to St. Mary's College earlier this month. "I despise it."

The way he tells it, if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) hadn't asked him to enter the race, he probably wouldn't be in the game at all. After running unopposed in the Republican primary, he is now a David facing the Goliath of the Maryland legal world: Douglas F. Gansler, the Montgomery County state's attorney.

Gansler, 43, is everything Rolle, 45, is not. He's Yale-educated, the head prosecutor in one of Maryland's most populous and prosperous counties, famous for bringing the Beltway snipers to trial in Maryland and a politician who isn't shy about raising money. According to a campaign finance report issued in early September, Gansler had more than $1 million in his war chest. Rolle had $69,000.

But the most vital difference is that Rolle is a Republican and Gansler is a Democrat. In a state where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2 to 1, unknown GOP candidates start with a major handicap.

Over lunch at St. Mary's, Jae Lim, a student who had worked in Gansler's campaign, cut right to the political reality. "A Baltimore Sun poll came out a few weeks ago showing you 29 points behind Doug Gansler . . ." -- "Twenty-eight," Rolle interrupted. (The Sun poll, taken in mid-September, showed that 54 percent of 815 likely voters would vote for Gansler and 26 percent would vote for Rolle. Rolle said that even his internal poll showed that he was 15 to 16 points behind.) Lim asked how he would surmount those odds.

"Two words: shoe leather," Rolle said.

So his shoes carried him to St. Mary's in Southern Maryland, where Messitte's class has become a kind of mecca for Maryland politicians. After lunch, Rolle, a trim man who runs regularly, stood in front of the 25 students in a cramped classroom, ready to make his pitch.

"Anybody who doesn't know what a state's attorney is raise your hand," Rolle said. Nobody did.

"Nobody will admit it," he said.

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