GOP wins may encourage Ehrlich to run for Md. governor

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010

A string of Republican victories, including this month's stunning upset in Massachusetts, has raised the stakes considerably for one of the nation's last remaining 2010 holdouts: Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who has yet to say whether he'll try to regain the Maryland governorship.

Ehrlich's actions indicate that he is moving much closer to seeking a rematch with Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), even lining up dozens of fundraising events should he move forward. But Ehrlich -- who in 2002 became the state's first Republican governor in a generation, only to lose to O'Malley four years later -- said in an interview he is unlikely to announce a decision before March.

Ehrlich's continued deliberations are testing the patience of many in his party, who fear that a late decision not to run could sink the chances of any other GOP candidate during a year in which Republicans elsewhere are feeling emboldened in places once thought unwinnable.

"If I were in charge, I would be banging on the men's room door," said Don Murphy, a former Maryland legislator and GOP strategist. "The question I would ask Bob Ehrlich is: If not now, when? It doesn't get any more simple than that."

Ehrlich has launched an "interactive listening tour" with community and business leaders across the state, and he said he wants to complete the remaining three or four scheduled meetings before making a decision.

A former jock who remains a fierce competitor, Ehrlich said he was encouraged by a poll he commissioned last month that showed a much tighter race with O'Malley than recent public surveys have suggested.

"I'm willing to serve," Ehrlich said after a stop last week in Hagerstown, where he also headlined a fundraiser for two Republican legislative candidates. "I am willing to do this again. . . . Right now, it's 'Where are the people?' and 'Do they want you?' . . . I think last summer people knew my inclination was 'no.' Right now, my inclination is, 'We really have to look at this.'"

A changed atmosphere

Ehrlich has been staunchly noncommittal for months, citing Maryland's heavy Democratic tilt in public assessments and private conversations. But much has changed around him recently.

In November, Republican candidates prevailed in governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey -- two states President Obama carried just a year before. And this month's Senate upset in Massachusetts has emboldened Republicans to believe that the mood is right to win just about anywhere.

Some party faithful have eagerly read into Ehrlich's activities that he's already running.

"I can't believe that Bob is all over the state, raising money and campaigning for other candidates, and building goodwill in the process, if he is not in campaign mode himself," said Ellen Sauerbrey, Maryland's Republican nominee for governor in 1994 and 1998. "I think the tea leaves suggest an announcement is coming."

For the past year, many analysts suggested that Ehrlich might take a pass on the 2010 governor's race to preserve his political options for the future. A second loss to O'Malley, the reasoning went, would make it harder to run for another office later. But now that the political climate has become far more favorable, fellow Republicans have suggested Ehrlich risks more by not running against O'Malley.

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