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A Politician Who Thinks Like a Linebacker

Emerging as the Republican Voice

"He's a linebacker in mentality. He has always been able to take a hit and return it with that much more," says D. Bruce Poole, a longtime Democratic friend of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

It was another weekend on the campaign trail, and Bob Ehrlich was headed to a corn roast in Reisterstown. The rain had stopped, finally. He made his entrance behind a goat named Tootsie who was wearing an Ehrlich sticker on her hindquarters.

The crowd parted and cheered, opening the way for the telegenic governor, who pumped hands and patted backs all the way to a makeshift stage. There, inside a hay barn, one of the hosts introduced him as "the best governor Maryland has ever had."

Square-jawed and lean, in a red polo shirt, Ehrlich smiled broadly as he looked out on the crowd of 300. This was a fundraiser in the county where Ehrlich started his political life.

With both hands in the air -- his gestures large and emphatic, his wife beaming beside him -- he made a few jokes, then narrowed in: The Democrats are the problem, he said, especially House Speaker Michael E. Busch (Anne Arundel) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (Calvert).

"Raise your hand if you want Mike Miller and Mike Busch to run Maryland politics for the next four years," he boomed.

"Booooo!" the crowd shouted. "Boooo!"

"It's like rooting for the Broncos," the governor scoffed to this crowd of Ravens faithful.

Just five more Republicans in the state Senate, he said, could change the legislature. "I need five new senators to stop Mike Miller from running over you for four years," he thundered.

The crowd roared.

The idea of greatly increasing the Republican presence in either body is a long shot, but Ehrlich has clearly emerged as the state party's voice. The governor has made other Republicans feel relevant politically, said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert). Before, he added, "we were reduced to rhetorical bomb-throwing. . . . We were ignored."

The corn roast went so well that Ehrlich skipped the next event -- his wife went in his place -- and posed for photographs, smile after smile after still-perfect smile, until it seemed that few people had been missed.

This was Bob Ehrlich in his home base in Baltimore County -- among political kin, a few of them from far enough back to remember how he started out.

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